Fred Barnes’ Conservative Wisdom

Fred BarnesFred Barnes used to be a centrist on The McLaughlin Group. That’s what made that show so vile: Barnes is a conservative extremist. The McLaughlin Group was the first time I noticed that the news could distort without lying. Barnes works for that bastion of moderation The Weekly Standard. And today he is proclaiming that Obama’s performance last night in the debate was Not a Game Changer.

I suppose this is enough to conclude that Obama did really well. If the executive editor of The Weekly Standard says that Obama did as well as Romney, you know Obama must have been really good. But there is more to the column than that. And it is despicable.

Barnes admits that Obama had his moments, but apparently, he was watching a different debate. Every time Obama made a good point, Barnes claims, Romney was able to counter it. I will allow that this occasionally happened, but it was the exception, not the rule. What’s more, according to Barnes, Romney had his own moments. Example? After Obama listed his accomplishments, Romney listed Obama’s failures. And what were those? Obama said he would get unemployment below 5.4%—before the economic crash. He said he would reform Medicare—which he has done. He said he would do immigration reform—which Republicans blocked. Only in the right wing media echo chamber are these standard campaign canards considered brilliant. I’m sure among the Fox News faithful, these lines kill. But those people already hate the President.

The bulk of Barnes’ column is a kind of “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” argument about the President’s Benghazi attack statement. Barnes—and just about every other conservative commentator—is trying to make the argument that Obama, “spoke about a generic terrorist attack but didn’t specifically attach that label to what had occurred in Benghazi.” Except that he said that in relation to the Benghazi attack. This is madness.

Barnes finishes up by noting that the debate was very agressive and that it didn’t hurt either candidate. Perhaps. I thought that Romney came off as small and unserious. But I know that I’m biased, although surely not as much so as Barnes. Time will tell. My guess is that Obama helped himself by a small but significant amount—perhaps one percentage point. I’m looking forward to the next couple of days.


Barnes also claims, “Vice President Joe Biden made a boorish spectacle of himself.” And, “That didn’t change the campaign equation.” Except, you know, it did:

Popular Vote - 16 Oct 2012

Ezra Klein backs me up on Romney’s rebuttal to Obama’s accomplishments:

This was, on first viewing, a devastating indictment of Obama. On rereading, it’s still harsh and effective. But it’s also telling. Most of what’s in here either wasn’t under Obama’s control or flatly isn’t true. Unemployment isn’t 5.4 percent because the recession, which predated Obama’s presidency, was vastly worse than anyone knew when that December 2008 estimate was made. That basically covers the food stamp and unemployment and median income charges, too. Obama could have done a bit better around the margins. But the bulk of the blame here goes to the recession — and, for the record, our economic performance, given the kind of recession we had, is a lot better than most people realize.

Obama hasn’t put forward a plan on Social Security, but between the Affordable Care Act and his 2013 budget, he’s put forward a much more ambitious and detailed Medicare plan than Romney has. The promise to cut health insurance premiums by $2,500, while audacious and probably unlikely, is tied to the Affordable Care Act, which doesn’t begin until 2014 — so that’s best understood as in progress.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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