by George Neumayr
Barack Obama holds court these days as a great authority on the preservation of a civilized democracy. He says that nothing worries him more than “disinformation.” Never mind that he rose to power as a manipulative acolyte of Saul Alinsky, the famously amoral Chicago activist who endorsed disinformation as a tool of “community organizing.” Much of Alinsky’s activism consisted of duping ordinary Americans. Were Alinsky alive today, he would no doubt enjoy the spectacle of a former president steeped in his duplicitous methods lecturing Americans on the dangers of disinformation.
Obama’s definition of “disinformation,” which he ponderously presented at a recent Chicago powwow on the subject, conforms perfectly to the Alinskyite “rules for radicals” that launched his career: “a systematic effort to either promote false information, to suppress true information, for the purpose of political gain, financial gain, enhancing power, suppressing others, targeting those you don’t like.”
Obama’s monumentally hypocritical posturing about disinformation follows a familiar pattern of leftists: they gain power by trafficking in disinformation; they try and stay in power by denouncing it. Almost everything that they describe as “threats” to democracy are simply exercises of democracy that lessen their power. By “disinformation,” Obama means any journalism that impedes liberal propaganda.
“It is difficult for me to see how we win the contest of ideas if in fact we are not able to agree on a baseline of facts that allow the marketplace of ideas to work,” he said. In other words, liberal control of the media is essential to liberalism’s political victories. What Obama calls a “baseline of facts” is nothing more than the ratified propaganda of a self-appointed liberal ruling class. He is in effect saying that liberal elites should have the unfettered power to tell the people what they can and can’t discuss.
This conception of the media is, of course, totalitarian, not democratic. Under it, the arbiters of the “baseline of facts” exist to stifle the speech most critical to the safeguarding of democracy. Anne Applebaum’s haughty dismissal of the Hunter Biden laptop story is a perfect illustration of Obama’s preferred media at work. Applebaum, who appeared at the same conference as Obama, didn’t deny the story’s accuracy but simply declared it unworthy of consideration by the peasants in selecting a president.
The conference’s stated concern about the “erosion of democracy” amounts to liberal anger at a shrinking media monopoly. The Anne Applebaums are furious that they can’t dictate the parameters of democratic debate as effortlessly as they once could. Obama is angry that conservatives won’t disarm and submit to a de facto one-party state. The whole discussion about “disinformation” is an Alinskyite trick: a massive deflection from liberalism’s undemocratic presumptions and constant peddling of propaganda.
Obama’s musings on “anger-based” journalism are no more persuasive than Bill Clinton’s supposed anxieties about “incivility”— a topic to which he warmed after conservative talk radio stymied his agenda in the 1990s. These phony concerns pop up whenever liberal power is challenged and betray a distaste for the normal flow of democracy. The ostensible Democratic calls for reforms of journalism and social media are just disguised power grabs.
The health of democracy depends on the expansion, not narrowing, of debates. Even the claim that we should develop an approved “baseline of facts” gives off a totalitarian scent. The disputes Obama finds so troubling aren’t factual but philosophical. His desire to suppress those disputes is not high-minded media criticism but raw politics.
The innocent and pontifical tone that he affected at the Chicago conference was laughable. “It’s something I grappled with a lot during my presidency. I saw it sort of unfold, and that is the degree to which information, disinformation, misinformation was being weaponized,” he said. This is the same president who signed off on Spygate, an investigation of Trump that derived from Russian disinformation his opponent had fed to Obama’s FBI. The Obama administration’s weaponizing of Hillary’s opposition research deserves a special place in the history of undemocratic dirty tricks.
It takes considerable chutzpah for Obama to say after that travesty, “I think I underestimated the degree to which democracies were as vulnerable to [disinformation] as they were, including ours.” He learned from Alinsky that the best defense for dirty tricks is to accuse your opponents of them. He wallowed in an Alinskyite culture of disinformation for decades, tricking the middle class into mistaking revolution for harmless change.
This unscrupulous community organizing became a habit in him and now takes the ludicrous form of faux-statesmanship. His discourses on democracy grow ever more pompous, whether he is grandly calling on Americans to accept critical race theory in the name of “reconciling” themselves to history or calling on them to swallow the lies of a biased media. In the end, his touted fears “for” democracy are just fears of democracy — a seething resentment that the people remain resistant to his radicalism.
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats’ Crypto-Socialist?
Photo “President Barack Obama” by Christopher Dilts for Obama for America CC2.0