Bill O’Reilly came under criticism from the Obama administration this week for stating that Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the State Department, “looks way out of her depth” and that “just the way she delivers, she doesn’t look like she has the gravitas for the job.”
The criticism was delivered by Psaki’s deputy, Marie Harf, who claimed that O’Reilly’s comments are sexist because she doesn’t “actually [doesn’t] think [he] would ever use [those words] about a man.” O’Reilly’s actions are “not ok,” Harf lectured.
Harf, who makes Psaki look intellectually hefty, should think again. O’Reilly has used similar words to disparage the new White House press security Josh Earnest, calling him “befuddled” and stating that he “looks uncertain” and “doesn’t look like he has a lot of credibility.”
We are left, then, with a baseless, whiney complaint against O’Reilly, the real thrust of which is that it’s “not ok” to express the opinion that a woman is “out of her depth,” even if that’s what one believes. Since when is policing speech part of the job of an administration flack?
The more interesting question is why Team Obama selects obvious lightweights to hold forth to the press on U.S. foreign policy. There are two answers, I believe.
First, Obama is playing to a core component of his base — the young. Those of us of a certain age may be put off by seeing U.S. foreign policy explained by someone who looks like she just stepped out of a Student Congress session. But to Obama’s youthful fans, it probably seems very cool. So, perhaps, does Psaki’s widely ridiculed (by old people) hashtag diplomacy.
Team Obama was ridiculed for using “Pajama Boy” to pitch Obamacare; yet it may have gotten the last laugh when enrollment by the “invincibles” picked up. Think of Psaki and Harf as the flack equivalents of Pajama Boy.
It may also be that Psaki and Harf are popular with women, or at least the significant portion of them who apparently buy into “the life of Julia”/war on women narrative.
But there’s a second, and think more fundamental, explanation for the State Department’s use of Psaki and Harf. I believe Team Obama is trying to “demystify” foreign policy — to make it look unthreatening almost to the point of child’s play. Psaki and Harf provide visual expression of this view just by standing at the podium and talking.
If one believes that the world is a dangerous place and that the U.S. must, accordingly, respond with constant vigilance and, at times, forceful engagement, then you want your spokespersons to look and talk maturely and somberly — to project, in a word, gravitas. For those of us who see the world that way, James Haggerty (Eisenhower’s press secretary who once said “if you lose your temper at a newspaper columnist, he’ll get rich or famous or both”) is a model.
But suppose you don’t believe the world is all that inherently dangerous. Suppose you believe, as Obama does, that the U.S. is at the root of many of the world’s problems and that a new dawn in international relations is possible if America will just lighten up.
In that case, you will be quite happy with light, breezy young foreign policy spokespersons. And if, like Harf, that spokesperson likes to get snarky with conservative journalist, all the better.
I’ve always thought that politicians and public officials tend to get the staff they deserve. This pet theory seems particularly applicable when it comes to spokespersons, and applicable on stilts to Psaki and Harf.
JOHN adds: Yes, and let’s not forget Tommy Vietor, a van driver for the Obama campaign who became a foreign policy spokesman for the Obama administration and famously said, in answer to a question about Benghazi, “Dude, this was like two years ago.” Barack Obama proceeds, always, on the assumption that voters are idiots. I think his choice of spokesmen is just one facet of that cynical perspective, which so far has proved sadly accurate.