Much has been made over the Obama administration's "War on Fox," and in reading the blogs and Tweets, I notice that many conservatives have settled on the story line that Team Obama is taking a page from Saul Alinsky's manifesto "Rules for Radicals."
Alinksy, a left-wing community organizer and author, advised his acolytes to "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.' "
Recent comments by White House Communications Director Anita Dunn have done nothing to allay conservatives' suspicion. "[Fox is] widely viewed as a part of the Republican Party," she said. "Take their talking points and put them on the air; take their opposition research and put it on the air. And that's fine. But let's not pretend they're a news organization like CNN is."
That certainly sounds like it's right out of the Alinsky playbook. But the White House attacks on Fox News have put in mind a more recent political practitioner, one William Jefferson Clinton, and a more recent movie instead of an out-of-print book. In the now-classic 1997 political film "Wag the Dog," the president's spin-doctor advisers (played brilliantly by Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman) invent a bogus war with Albania in order to take the focus off a nascent sex scandal that could doom the president's re-election. The purpose is to distract voters from the real issue -- the scandal -- and to also rouse patriotism and support for the president. It works brilliantly, at least in Hollywood's telling. In real life, dropping bombs on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and an empty terrorist camp in Afghanistan didn't distract the congressional hound dogs on President Clinton's tail. But political attack dogs are nothing if not derivative. Could it be that the "War on Fox" is just as bogus as the fictional war in Albania?
President Obama's base could certainly use a distraction these days, and a skirmish with Fox could be just what the doctor ordered. Democrats appear poised to abandon the public option from the health care bill -- something liberals are insisting be a part of any reform legislation -- and Obama may be on the verge of angering his political base by putting more troops in Afghanistan. Without something to distract liberals within the party, Democrats and Obama could be in big trouble. (In fact, liberals are currently running ads in Nevada attacking vulnerable Majority Leader Harry Reid for being "weak" on the public option.)
Might Obama's team have invented the "War on Fox" to distract liberals from all this? It gives his base something to be happy about, even as they face concessions on health care and Afghanistan. Liberals who have been irritated by the news channel over the years can justify continued support of Obama by saying, "At least he stuck it to Fox!"