Like a Rolling Stone

Jann Wenner asks the president about that McChrystal profile

The magazine that got General McChrystal fired comes at us next month with another Obama cover, this one bearing a pic of a stern and suited president, hands in pockets, behind the cover line, “Obama Fights Back—The Rolling Stone Interview.”

But you won’t have to wait for the magazine’s November edition to read the conversation between Jann Wenner, Eric Bates and the president inside; the folks at Rolling Stone published the interview this morning, clearly sensing they were on to something good.

They were right. It’s a long and meaty thing—they got an hour and fifteen minutes with the president in the Oval Office—and covers everything from Afghanistan to BP to Goldman Sachs to filibusters to the midterms, and of course, includes the requisite “What’s on your iPod?” question. One passage likely to set the liberal blogosphere ablaze is this little spiel from the president, who returned to the Oval Office after leaving the interview to volunteer a few extra thoughts:

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we’ve got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Coupled with the Vice President’s comment yesterday about “whining” liberals, we should expect some pushback today.

The media doesn’t play a big part in Wanner and Bates’s line of questioning, but the president does offer a few choice words on our dear profession—few of them overly adulatory. Asked, inevitably, what he thinks of Fox News, Obama demonstrates some solid historical knowledge of the press:

[Laughs] Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.

He also pays lip service to the Huffington Post and Rolling Stone itself when asked about frustration in his base:

I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn’t have a bill. You’ve got to make a set of decisions in terms of “What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you’re actually trying to govern?” I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I’m going to go ahead and take it.

And later, Obama demonstrates how to avoid making a Stanley McChrystal of himself while answering questions on the Rolling Stone profile that landed the general in such hot water.

I was in my office in the residence, in the Treaty Room. Joe Biden called me — he was the first one who heard about it. I think it was Sunday night, and I had one of the staff here send me up a copy, and I read through the article. I will say at the outset that I think Gen. McChrystal is a fine man, an outstanding soldier, and has served this country very well. I do not think that he meant those comments maliciously. I think some of those comments were from his staff, and so he was poorly served. And it pained me to have to make the decision I did. Having said that, he showed bad judgment. When I put somebody in charge of the lives of 100,000 young men and women in a very hazardous situation, they’ve got to conduct themselves at the highest standards, and he didn’t meet those standards.

There is not a lot you wouldn’t expect to come out of Obama’s mouth in the Rolling Stone interview, but as a broad canvassing of the issues and the president’s views on them, it’s worth the early read.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.