How Politicians and the Media make Bullshit Happen

Former President Barack Obama gave an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic this month where he talked about why he thinks American politics has become so bad. It’s bullshit from beginning to end. But it’s easy to say that something is bullshit, so let me show you how Obama and Goldberg spread bullshit about race, women and politics with three examples.

What Obama and Goldberg Said About Race

Goldberg: You’re just surprised by the horse populism rode in on.

Obama: Yes, and it’s this indication of parts of popular culture that I’ve missed. It’s interesting—people are writing about the fact that Trump increased his support among Black men [in the 2020 presidential election], and the occasional rapper who supported Trump. I have to remind myself that if you listen to rap music, it’s all about the bling, the women, the money. A lot of rap videos are using the same measures of what it means to be successful as Donald Trump is. Everything is gold-plated. That insinuates itself and seeps into the culture.

Michelle and I were talking about the fact that although we grew up in very different places, we were both very much working-class, lower-middle-class, in terms of income, and we weren’t subject day-to-day to the sense that if you don’t have this stuff then you are somehow not worthy. America has always had a caste system—rich and poor, not just racially but economically—but it wasn’t in your face most of the time when I was growing up. Then you start seeing Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, that sense that either you’ve got it or you’re a loser. And Donald Trump epitomizes that cultural movement that is deeply ingrained now in American culture.

Why That’s Bullshit- President Obama neglected to mention that almost every demographic cast more votes for Trump in 2020 than in 2016. Yet somehow he lays the blame at the feet of both Black men and rap music, managing to pathologize both at the same time. While he chastises only us for something nearly 74 million other people did too, he doesn’t ONCE thank Black voters for delivering Michigan, Wisconsin or Georgia.

What Goldberg Should Have Asked- Jeffrey Goldberg is a respected journalist who has won many awards. So why didn’t he ask any basic follow-up questions: What about Detroit and Milwaukee essentially giving Biden the presidency? What about your music playlists that are full of rap? What about all the rappers and Black entertainers who supported Biden?

These “award winning journalists” let these niggas say whatever they want and call it journalism. Anyone can do that. Push back and ask some fucking questions!

What Obama and Goldberg Said About Gender

Goldberg: In the book it’s very clear that for you Sarah Palin was the first horsewoman of the apocalypse and Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter who helped spark the Tea Party, was the second horseman. And then the cast grows.

Obama: At the time that it’s happening, you get a sense that this is a strain within the Republican Party or the conservative movement that has always been there. It dates back to the Birchers and elements in the Goldwater campaign, but you also sort of feel that all of this is behind us.

Goldberg: Your presidency was supposed to be proof in a kind of way that America was moving on.

Obama: Right. But what happened is that these things unleash or liberate some of that energy. The power of Palin’s rallies compared with McCain’s rallies—just contrast the excitement you would see in the Republican base. I think this hinted at the degree to which appeals around identity politics, around nativism, conspiracies, were gaining traction. As I was writing, the clarity of those patterns became more obvious.

Obama doesn’t directly say anything negative about women, but he does a common tactic where he shifts all blame for wrongdoing onto women, and leaves men blameless. The current insanity of the Republican Party is all Sarah Palin’s fault. But who let the Palin genie out of the bottle? Obama spends a fair amount of the interview praising John McCain, and never blames him for picking Palin as his running mate.

So McCain continues to look like a hero, and Palin is the cause of Donald Trump, even though McCain is the one who elevated that particular strain of crazy into the Republican mainstream. Obama literally lets this dude slide.

What Goldberg Should Have Asked: He should have asked, “Doesn’t McCain share some of the blame for choosing her?” But that would destroy the narrative where Trump hijacked the party. It would show mainstream Republicans have been flirting with that insanity the whole time and turned to it when they needed it. It’s easier to blame the crazy woman though than the crazy men though, so whatever.

What Obama and Goldberg Said About the Tea Party

Goldberg: In the book, you describe what Santelli did on CNBC—his call for a new Boston Tea Party—as “bullshit.”

Obama: You can tell if you watch it that it’s shtick. It’s no different than Celebrity Apprentice. It’s entertainment. Except what I noticed watching that clip at the time, and rewatching it as I was writing the book, is that the traders—he’s doing this shtick at the Chicago Board of Trade—the traders believe it. The sense of grievance, the sense that “we”—and define we however you want: white Americans, working-class white Americans, conservatives—“we” are the aggrieved party and that “we” are being victimized, that sense is notable. You have billionaires and CEOs starting to feel like they’re being victimized. And it was interesting to recognize how powerful that impulse was, how readily people would embrace this kind of aggrievement and anger, the resentment that Palin and Santelli were peddling.

So the Tea Party becomes a genuine manifestation of that. It’s rooted in very real frustrations that folks are having about stagnant wages and communities that are deindustrialized. Folks feel like the insiders are taking advantage of them, and there’s a sense of loss of status and identity. It was becoming apparent very early in my presidency that you could take anger and frustration and direct it in what I consider to be a pretty unhealthy direction.

This is the most frustrating part of this interview to me. Obama is being plainly incoherent. How does President Obama say that Santelli’s Tea Party is “bullshit,” and then in the next sentence call it the real frustrations of Americans? How can a movement cooked up by a reporter in a Wall Street trading room be “rooted in very real frustrations?” How does that make sense?

The Tea Party NEVER represented real frustrations. It was invented by a reporter at a stock exchange and was bankrolled by billionaires. So why is Obama saying that it did?

He’s just lying. I can’t come to any other conclusion. Admitting the truth would show that the federal government was literally hijacked by billionaires and shut down. If Obama said, “The Tea Party was a front for billionaires, and nothing more,” then it reveals the utter impotence of him and our political system in the face of wealth. So I think he’d rather not say it.

What Goldberg Should Have Asked: “How can a movement that started in a stock exchange represent the real frustrations of Americans?” How did this guy win awards? How? Unless of course, the award is for bullshit journalism, which is what I’m starting to believe.

These are just three examples from the Obama interview, and they all point towards the same thing: a worldview which holds the preservation of the status quo above all else, and an unwillingness to hold the powerful people who’ve lied to and stolen from the American people accountable. And the reporter, our brave champion of truth, just sits there and records the lies instead of challenging them. I’ll pass on subscribing to The Atlantic.

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