Newsweek Editor Touts Democratic 'Two Prize Fighter' Ticket

On the roundtable segment of Sunday’s Meet the Press, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham exclaimed that the Democratic Party should be elated that for years, the Democrats "wanted a prize fighter. And they have two right now." The NBC show was discussing Meacham's  interview with Obama in the September 1 Newsweek, in which Meacham supportively volunteered to Obama that while some worry he won’t be tough enough, "I think a careful reading of your life, even a cursory one, suggests the opposite. I just don't think you get to where you're sitting when you're 47 years old by being soft."

The Newsweek interview is all about the touchy-feely matters of Obama’s upbringing, and the absence of his father Barack Obama Senior, a theme Meacham highlighted on Meet the Press:

MEACHAM: But at core, Obama says, "I raised myself." And I think that that means this "Obambi" image is probably misplaced.

TOM BROKAW: Is that, however, a perilous enterprise for him because he has attracted new voters in part because he has been different, he won't get down in the pit with him, and he'll rise above and say, "Yes, we can"?

MEACHAM: I think – you can say, "Yes, we can" all you want, but you can't do it if you don't get there. And I think that the Democratic Party, over the last eight to – a number of years, has wanted a prize fighter. And they have two right now.

"Interview" is probably too strong a word for this conversation between Meacham and Obama in the news magazine. It sounds more like an awed Obama acolyte trying to flatter Obama into liking him:

Q: As you know, the conventional wisdom of the hour is that you may be too soft to fight this contest with the vigor that it may require. But for what it's worth, I think a careful reading of your life, even a cursory one, suggests the opposite. I just don't think you get to where you're sitting when you're 47 years old by being soft.

A: The nice thing about it is that at least people tend to underestimate me, which isn't a bad thing. I think [my strength] actually comes, in my case, from the absence of a father. At some level I had to raise myself.

Then Meacham turned to his stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, and talked up boxing, which sounded similar to Hillary Clinton's stories about her mother telling her to go back out and punch a bullying opponent:

Q: On this toughness theme, I was struck by the detail in which you recalled how your stepfather taught you how to box.

A: That chapter in my first book talking about Indonesia really spoke to impulses that continue in me to this day, and that is between the idealism of my mother and her sense of empathy and compassion, and the hardheaded realism that the world out there can be tough, that there is evil in the world and not every problem can be solved by mutual understanding, and that power will assert itself and may not stop asserting itself until it hits a wall. I think that's true in American politics, and I think that's true in foreign policy. [You need] countervailing power. Which is why you have very rarely seen me in my campaigns throwing the first punch. But I'll tell you what, if I get punched, very rarely have you seen me not hit back hard.

Meacham sounded like he was still gazing with a twinkle at Obama as he continued:

Q: Usually politicians who look back on difficult childhoods re-imagine them to make them more congenial, but you seem to have a much colder eye about things.

A: I don't do too many touch-ups on this. My father was a deeply troubled person. My father was an alcoholic. He was a womanizer. He did not treat his children well. I think that even my mother, who loved him and was always very generous toward him, said to me once that I probably ended up benefiting from not having grown up with him because he was very hard on those children who were in his household, and in a lot of ways he was a tortured soul.

This interview wasn't designed in any way to challenge Obama, but to allow him to continue to paint his own life story in a way he thinks will attract voters. Meacham never presses him to respond to any of the conservative charges against him. It is simply assumed from the article's first line that Obama is tough, so there's no need for Newsweek to be tough.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis