It is impossible to understand the Obama administration’s uniquely hostile treatment of Fox News without understanding the self-image of the Obama team. On the one hand, the targeting of Fox News for isolation and surveillance suggests an administration so lacking in competence that it cannot tolerate criticism or scrutiny. On the other, the attacks suggest hubris, a confidence that few would ever object to its conduct.
That contradiction has a religious quality to it. Indeed, President Barack Obama has led an administration that has, at times, been more of a religious movement than a governing body. Obama has made miraculous promises of political and planetary transformation; he has encouraged a cult-like following, even among formerly skeptical journalists; and he has constructed a demonology of his opponents, real and imagined.
Most of all, the Obama administration preaches a millenarian idea of history that places it at the apex of a process of moral evolution. In that view, the “long arc of history” that Obama cited in his victory speech in 2008 does not just bend towards justice in a moral sense, but towards him in a political sense. He and his supporters see his election as both the culmination and transcendence of everything that came before him.
Accordingly, Obama and his supporters refuse to be judged on normal criteria, such as the president’s actual record in office. Though he is quick to claim credit on the rare occasion–such as the bin Laden raid–when things go right, President Obama typically adopts a prophetic distance from the office he holds that insulates him from criticism and allows him to attack the very Washington he leads, the very political games he plays.
The heresy of Fox News is not just that it criticizes the Obama administration or that it provides a platform for conservative opinion, but that it rejects the attempt to place Obama beyond politics and accountability. It refuses, in other words, to endorse the idea that Obama inhabits a unique category, beyond the obvious (and, for most governing purposes, meaningless) historic fact that he is the nation’s first black president.
Democrats use race to defend Obama from criticism, but race is not what makes him special to the left. It is but one way in which he embodies an idea that existed long before him and will persist after he leaves office–namely, the Hegelian notion that the redistributionist state represents the fulfillment of history, that the noble intentions of the left make it morally superior, by default, regardless of their practical consequences.
Obama not only shares his party’s belief in its moral superiority but also embodies it in his own person. His preference for the word “I” is but one symptom. In a recent, typical example, he told the media: “I’ve still got 60,000-plus troops in Afghanistan,” as if those soldiers serve him personally and at his pleasure. The corollary: his critics must be motivated by personal hatred or bigotry, not any independent principles.
That conviction, in the Obama inner circle, is what likely justified the hostile treatment of Fox News, which led to the abusive investigation of reporter James Rosen and others. Unlike the Nixon administration, which was suffused with paranoia, the Obama White House suffers from an excess of self-regard. It is threatened less by opposition than by independence–and by the idea that we must be students of, not servants of, history.