Is there no end to the political hypocrisy elected officials will throw at us? No sense of decency or patriotism in the media? No sense that re-publication of baseless attacks is actually complicity, and damages their own credibility? Is there no understanding that one-sided stories undermine civic dialogue?
Two dozen stories over the past three weeks hit the Trump White House and cabinet. So many of these have so little truth, perspective or proportion that observers are left speechless. A “removed bust” of Martin Luther King was not removed. “Bad faith” averred on executive orders was not bad faith. Smears of good cabinet members’ lives of service go unanswered, as if character assassination is laudable.
Merciless attacks are made on good White House communications and security personnel, as if transitions are flawless. A crazy 1799 Logan Act, not enforced in 200 years, makes headlines. Now a slap-down of Trump’s communications advisor, for a semi-comic comment on a line of clothes done by the President’s daughter, is the lead story. Every Democrat in Congress has their hair is on fire.
Here is some perspective. White House advisor Kellyanne Conway is no favorite of the media, for sure. They resent her involvement in a campaign that beat what for many was the preferred candidate. We know this. As a communications person, she defends the president. In jest, perhaps a touch of indignation, she defended the president’s daughter. When questioned about a retailer’s cancellation of the First Daughter’s clothes line, she leaned into the unfairness and concluded “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”
For this, we get national hysteria? Histrionic political reaction, outrage and days’ of reverberating media? The gravamen of the attack: How dare anyone near the President promote a commercial interest! The principle is real but much narrower: Public offices should not be exploited for private gain. But honestly, Washington’s perspective is all off.
Be real for a moment. Conway was not profiting. Not trying to profit. She was not promoting her own line of clothes. She was responding to a pointed question, perhaps too sarcastically, even a bit sardonically. She was tossing back a sharp retort at a questioner – actually at the retailer through the questioner – for cutting a commercial line for political reasons. Is that not obvious? It is to most of America.
She was not being particularly circumspect, not thought through, but not criminal either. In fact, reality is – her comment’s reflexive nature more or less absolves her of any deep and premediated attempt to violate the law or bring herself profit.
Now, go one level deeper. Look at the hypocrisy. How many times did President Obama promote a specific company that had, oh yes, contributed money to his political campaign? How many times do members of Congress do the same thing, especially in their home districts? Cutting red ribbons, thanking the world on television and in press releases for wonderful work done by a company that, oh yes, has given them money in the last election, and they hope will in the next?
Okay, a level deeper. How many times did Michelle Obama, and First Ladies before her, accept and model – clearly promoting – specific fashion companies and designers which lent them expensive dresses to wear to State dinners and other publicized outings? Let’s get even more specific.
Didn’t President Obama turn a solar panel maker into the “poster child” for America’s “green” future? Didn’t he rave about that company’s products and contributions, even encourage support for it? Doubling the offence, didn’t the company end up with that support – and then go bankrupt? A news story on it ended: “The [Obama] White House did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.” Wonder why?
Didn’t President Obama promote Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie on climate change, on the South Lawn of the White House? Didn’t President Obama promote specific American businesses in Cuba, another double error, including “Stripe,” “Airbnb,” and “Kiva?” There are dozens of examples, specific companies mentioned, many tied to the White House in other ways. President Obama did not say “this is a commercial,” but it was.
Refocus on former First Lady Michelle Obama. Dozens of stories were run about companies and fashion designers she chose and promoted – by wearing their gowns, some upwards of $12,000 in price. Photos became commercials in fashion magazines. She was, in effect, a walking commercial. And they proudly said so.
Wrote one fashion maven: 'What a dress for her last state dinner at the White House… Talk about going out with a bang, a gold Versace bang,” adding “”throughout her tenure as First Lady, she's really championed her favorite designers, including Jason Wu and Tadashi Shoji …” To be clear, this is not to accuse – but to present detractors with perspective.
There are countless distinctions, few differences. The Conway remark was an off-hand quip, ill-advised, but unworthy of the hubbub it created. How much more did companies championed by President Obama and promoted by the First Lady benefit? Far more than any clothesline from a staffer’s passing comment. Right?
With respect for all, and a simple call for fairness, this is an embarrassing moment. Political leaders should slow down, take stock of how they look. This is an intended “gotcha” moment – that utterly backfired. Average Americans look and ask: “What is wrong with those people in Washington?”
What America sees is venal and vindictive behavior, and they do not like it. What they see is something that embarrasses them on behalf of their leaders, makes them wonder if they see themselves at all. In effect, Americans want to lower their heads, tap those leaders on the shoulder and say “your hemline is showing,” or “check that zipper.” Hypocrisy is just embarrassing, and it is counter-productive. Could it be time to govern, that other thing people are sent to Washington for?