Presidential double-standards, cont’d

PRESIDENTIAL DOUBLE-STANDARDS, CONT’D…. I’ve been maintaining a list of some of the actions President Obama has taken that have been deemed “controversial,” despite being quite common and routine amongst his predecessors. Al Kamen flags another one for the list today.

As is now well known, Obama hosted a meeting at the White House with BP executives last week, and persuaded the oil giant to create a $20 billion fund to bring relief to families and businesses victimized by the company’s devastating oil spill. Instead of applauding the breakthrough, the right has casually thrown around words and phrases like “shakedown,” “extortion,” “illegal,” “power grab,” and “Chicago-style political shakedown.” This week, some on the right have gone so far as to equate the White House’s success with Hitler and the Nazis.

But Obama’s accomplishment is hardly without modern historical precedent.

Back in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy, fearing an inflation uptick, threatened to use steel stockpiles to lower prices if the steel industry didn’t overturn a recent price increase, it was called traditional “jawboning.”

Reaction, as is pretty much always the case, fell along party lines, with the party not in the Oval Office opposing the action. Economists criticized it as bad policy, Republicans criticized it as wrong-headed and unwarranted government intrusion. Democrats naturally hailed the move as an example of strong leadership and a fine use of the bully pulpit.

Lyndon Johnson, a veteran of Senate arm-twisting and cajoling, jawboned to forestall airline and railroad strikes and such.

Richard Nixon decried the Democrats’ jawboning but then, with inflation getting out of control, said, “We will have jawboning.” And we did, until Nixon tweaked the free market system ever-so-slightly by imposing a wage and price freeze.

Jawboning had become so ingrained as a presidential activity that, in December 1999, candidate George W. Bush criticized President Bill Clinton because he didn’t “jawbone OPEC members to lower prices.”

It’s only “controversial” when it’s Obama looking out for Americans’ interests.

For those keeping score at home, here’s the updated, running list:

* When other presidents pressure private industries in support of struggling Americans, it’s routine. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents honor Memorial Day, but do not visit Arlington National Cemetery, it’s fine. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents use teleprompters, it’s hardly noticed. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents bow to foreign heads of state when meeting leaders where bowing is customary, it’s routine. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents speak to school children in national addresses, it’s of no consequence. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents rely on “czars” to tackle various policy areas, it’s routine. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents are seen in the Oval Office without a jacket or tie, it’s unimportant. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents criticize specific media outlets for unwelcome coverage, it’s commonplace. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents encourage Congress to use the budget reconciliation process to pass legislation, it’s ordinary. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents rescue struggling American industries and major companies, it’s seen as necessary. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents intervene in specific elections, and even offer jobs to help coax candidates out of various races, it’s customary. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

* When other presidents lead administrations that made terrorist suspects aware of their Miranda rights, it’s just the rule of law. When Obama does the same thing, it’s “controversial.”

As always, these examples seem to come up often enough that I intend to keep a running tally going. Let me know if I miss any big ones.