Charlie Hebdo Massacre

This One Weird Trick Can Turn an Important Issue Into a Pointless Partisan Food Fight

The dumb debate about Obama's absence from a Paris rally


…with your smile!
Daily News

Some issues are readymade partisan poo-throwing matches, with every Democratic and Republican talking point sketched out in advance. Others require a little time before they're really ready for the Crossfire format. The attack at Charlie Hebdo wasn't the sort of event that immediately lends itself to the Red Team/Blue Team treatment, but it got there within a week. All it took was a couple of faux outrages that the players could insert in the original, bona fide outrage's place.

On the Republican side, the pseudo-controversy involves Obama's failure to appear at a rally in France over the weekend. This is, to be clear, not just a Republican concern. It's the sort of purely symbolic issue that people love to weigh in on, and it's pretty much the conventional wisdom right now that the president or another high-ranking American official should have gone. Politico's liberal-leaning cartoonist Matt Wuerker offered the argument as angrily as anyone at The Weekly Standard or National Review:

I thought UVa reinstated the fraternity.

But whatever the world leaders who came to France were there to defend, it surely wasn't liberté. Many of the regimes represented regularly stomp on speech in their own countries. ("Marches and public protests are banned in Algeria," one website pointed out, "but Algerian ministers have the right to march in the streets of…Paris!") If only Washington and Moscow had men there, by gum, then the censors would be on the run!

At any rate, the French themselves don't seem particularly concerned about Obama's absence—yesterday their ambassador said the controversy was "weird"—so this doesn't even rise to the level of a diplomatic faux pas. But the White House itself has now announced that it erred in not sending someone to the rally, and the Republicans have been pressing their advantage. Rick Perry even called the decision "a new low in American diplomacy." He didn't say what the previous low was. Yalta?

So what's a Democrat to do? The Red Team could read from its familiar The President's Failure To Make The Right Symbolic Gesture Shows His Lack Of Resolve In The War On Terror script, and the Blue Team was left flailing. It looked like they'd just be reduced to sputtering that Republicans said mean things about France back in the Bush years…until last night, when Providence provided this:

It's a koan.

When Rep. Randy Weber's tweet appeared, a wave of relief rippled from The Huffington Post to MSNBC. The Blue Team picked up one of its own favorite scripts—it's called You're Smarter Than This Republican You've Never Heard Of Before—and everything fell into place. Put the cable news channels back on autopilot, boys; everyone knows what to say til the next crisis comes along.

NEXT: Ron Paul: The Notion That Charlie Hebdo Was Attacked Over Free Speech Is 'fantasy'

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  1. What’s really weird is that Obama appears to be in full campaign mode now (which he wasn’t before the election because nobody on his team wanted him around), travelling hither and yon about the country.

    Exactly who or what he’s campaigning for though, it’s hard to say exactly. As best as I can tell, the crux of his message appears to be “the economy is better than you idiots think it is”.

    1. It’s all he knows.

      1. Exactly. He’s not a guy who works with Congress, gets status reports from appointees, or takes a test run at

        I try not to pay attention to his speeches, but I’m guessing he’s softening us up for his coming fiats and vetoes.

    2. When you are lost and alone, you go back to being who you really are. Obama is nothing more than a campaigner. He’s great at whoring himself out to the wealthy in return for donations to keep the Dem machine going. Kind of lousy at everything else.

      1. What do you think his post-White House future is? I really wonder. The dude will be young, he loves the adulation of the mobs, Michelle loves the limelight, Valerie Jarrett needs something to do, and who knows, Obamacare might be repealed by June 2017?

        I guess we’ll know soon (not soon enough), but it’s something I like to ponder.

        1. I happen to know that he plans to do voice work and has been hired for Archer in 2017 to play the role of a new arch-nemesis for the organization formerly known as ISIS.

        2. I have a sick feeling he will be a community organizer on steroids, publicly criticizing his successors for cleaning up the junk pile he left behind. I think we’re in store for a shit ton of poverty pimping and race baiting. I really, really hope I’m wrong about this.

          1. I don’t.

            Twenty years of Obama race baiting and self-pitying will destroy the progs for generations.

            Maybe even, libertarians might have some success from the rebound.

        3. The few presidents I’ve lived through seem to step back from the spotlight for a little while. That was especially true of Bush since he was so unpopular. I have a hard time seeing Obama doing the same thing. I’m sure he’ll take a vacation but I see a book tour and plenty of public speaking engagements in his very near future.

        4. he will do the only thing he knows how to do – talk. Incessantly. About anything. And steeped with the usual: opponents of evil motivation, false choices, straw men, etc.

          1. That for sure. Be interesting to see how long people keep listening.

            1. I stopped listening to the INCOMPETENT Pinochhiobama 6 years ago. PERIOD.

  2. You’re Smarter Than This Republican You’ve Never Heard Of Before

    Seems like they try to remake this show every year.

    1. Of course, there also seems to be an endless supply of Republicans ready to supply the stupidity needed for the game to continue.

      1. No matter how low reality TV sinks, there are always people willing to debase themselves for that sweet taste of celebrity.

      2. The TEAMs feed off of each other, NutraSweet. They couldn’t exist without one another. This is how they function. I’m surprised it took this long for TEAM RED to throw TEAM BLUE a bone; I mean, without one, how would they have their proper partisan narrative?

    2. I friggin’ loved that line, though.

  3. Yeah, there’s a bit too much being made of Obama not going. However, he should have sent Biden, or at the very least, Kerry. Not doing any of that is clearly a deliberate message, I suppose some combination of “terror isn’t important” and “we must not upset Muslims by referring to Islamic terror.”

    1. …and you fall right into the TEAM narrative, right on cue. What a perfect illustration of Jesse’s entire point.

      1. No. It is just pointing out the reality of how diplomacy works. Who you send to this or that meeting or event says something about how important you think it is. That is just how it works. So when Obama sends the Ambassador to an even that many of our allies’ Presidents and Prime Ministers are attending, that leaves the impression that he just doesn’t give a shit about it. And that is not the impression the US should be leaving or the opinion the US should have.

        So, either Obama is incompetent and didn’t realize the effect of sending the ambassador only would have or he really doesn’t give a shit. Either choice says bad things about Obama.

        1. The US is a collection of individuals. It cannot have an opinion.

          I guess you are probably right about how diplomacy works, but I don’t really care at this point. I just don’t like that kind of formality and symbolism. And Obama has been so awful when it comes to defending free speech that his or his representative’s presence would lack credibility.

          1. That’s a good point. Why didn’t I go to show solidarity with my French friends?

          2. The US government isn’t a collection of individuals. It has leaders, the most important of which is the President. And it can have an opinion. One of the jobs the President has is to articulate those opinions to the world via diplomacy.

            1. We should’ve sent Clint Eastwood. Why do I think of these things after the fact?

              1. Remember, he sent Billie Jean King to the Olympics. So it is not like he doesn’t understand the power of symbolism.

                You know who he could have sent, and don’t laugh, George W. Bush. It would have been sending a former President, so no one could say he was blowing it off. It would have made him look all bi-partisan. It would have been perfect.

                1. Except that the Europeans have converted him into a symbol of everything wrong with America, which is funny, because Obama is even more a symbol of what’s really wrong with America.

                  I’d have sent Al Sharpton if I’d been Obama. Yo, fuck you all.

                  1. No. Farrakhan. MUCH better choice.

                2. Yes, GWB would have been a good idea. But in the Obama worldview, Republicans are a greater danger than Islamists.

                  And thanks for coming to my defense, John. Epi has apparently decided to put me on his enemies list.

              2. An empty chair would have been more appropriate.

                1. Perhaps what he did–sent the empty while keeping the chair.

            2. You didn’t say government (though I should have guessed that’s what you meant).

              Yes, the government can and does do those things. But I don’t want that. Particularly if he isn’t willing to just come out and say, absolutely, that people can and should say exactly whatever they want to and that anyone who resorts to violence to stop free expression is just plain wrong and evil.

            3. I can’t believe he didn’t send the Clintons.

              Bill being an ex-president would have checked off the requirement for the right amount of respect and it would have given Hillary the chance to look presidential.

              There must really be some bad blood between them if he didn’t.

              Of course, I can’t believe the Clintons didn’t show up on their own. You think that for once they would forego their usual fees.

              1. Pope Jimbo: yes, the Clintons would have been another good idea. And it is telling that Hillary didn’t just go on her own.

                1. My only theory is that the Clintons were as surprised as anyone that no official was sent.

                  I’m sure they worried that if they showed up they would have been depicted as attention whores trying to take the spotlight away from Biden or Holder.

        2. Actually, you just convinced me that Obama made the right decision. This sort of thing is exactly what an ambassador is for.

      2. Then there’s the third Team Narrative: “A Plague on Both Your Houses”. It’s a good template for posts and comments.

        1. The butthurt is strong with this one.

          1. A hitherto unnamed but often seen here logical fallacy: Argumentum ad Butthurtum.

            Perhaps a scholar can cast the name in real Latin for us.

      3. even Team Obama is saying “yup, we should have sent someone.” Anyway, it was a photo op, something Obama is good at and actually likes doing.

    2. Whether he likes it or not, just sending the Ambassador made a statement and not a good one. I totally understand why he personally didn’t go. Not sending Biden or at least telling Holder, who was in Paris, to go is pretty inexcusable.

  4. I don’t care at all. In fact, I think it is better that none of them were there. I don’t want a symbolic leader, I don’t want symbolic representation, particularly not from any of our politicians. They are just a bunch of self serving shits. The marches or whatever they are are about the people of France saying they won’t put up with this shit, not about symbolic gestures by foreign dignitaries.

  5. I find it hilarious that the “shameless political grandstanding on top of the bodies of cartoonists that none of these politicians would have let into their waiting rooms while alive” is being treated as the *crucial test of a politician’s love for freedom* by the “milk every tragedy we can-media”.

    I blame the ferguson/cop-death frenzy of the past 6 months. The tabloids are fucking rabid with outrage-stoking. They don’t know how to stop. Maybe they need ‘bad weather’ or something to distract them.

    1. Part of it is, just sticking him with the same standards the media has been sticking Republican Presidents with. George Bush didn’t immediately fly to New Orleans after Katrina, so that meant he hates black people and wanted to see them die. Didn’t you know that Gilmore?

      But the other part is the diplomatic piece. Regardless of what this march was, it was a big deal to the French and a lot of our allies. Not sending anyone other than the Ambassador is intentionally or not telling France we really don’t give a fuck. Maybe Obama doesn’t and maybe we shouldn’t. But that is what it is saying. So it is entirely fair to call out Obama for not giving a fuck or being too incompetent to know that was the impression he was leaving.

      1. Well, I thought criticism of Bush for not going to NO was stupid too. The best thing in a situation like that is for the president to stay as far away as possible. His presence can only hinder recovery and cleanup. People are just idiotically attached to having the president be the country’s daddy and all of the pointless symbolic crap that goes with it.

        1. It was incredibly stupid. But, unlike Katrina, this is diplomacy and international affairs, were appearances matter. Part of the job of being President is making sure the US doesn’t offend people by not showing up at things like this.

          1. “Part of the job of being President is making sure the US doesn’t offend people”


            Every parade in the world has a sad now.

            1. Come on, the Paris march wasn’t just “a parade.”

              1. Yes, it was

                Mark Lynch = “”@abuaardvark

                Glad so many world leaders could take time off jailing and torturing journalists and dissidents to march for free expression in France.
                7:50 AM – 11 Jan 2015


                I also noted a piece by “American Renaissance“…

                (a magazine i assume which would be banned in France for being pretty blatantly ‘race-judgmental’ or whatever the fuck they want to call it)

                … where they go into detail about ‘hate speech’ convictions in France as recent as a *few days ago*…. and I can specifically recall a few myself from this year and last year, such as the comedian ‘Dieudonne’ who is still under threat of prosecution, and the recent football player who did the ‘reverse nazi-salute’ thing and was pilloried;

                Obama has never made a single Genuine stand for “free speech”. I’m not about to demand he run overseas on the taxpayer dime to pretend he does along with all the other hypocrites.

                1. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. The fact that they don’t always live up to ideals is not a good reason to sneer at statements in favor of those ideals.

        2. a lot of politics IS symbolism. I get that you don’t like it; it’s not how normal people operate. But the political class is not normal people. What you do or don’t do, say or don’t say, is going to be interpreted by those who care mightily about these things. And those people have a way of shaping broader opinion.

          1. a lot of politics IS symbolism.

            Which is exactly the problem. That’s exactly what I don’t want. We’d be a lot better off without a lot of politics.

            We don’t need a leader, we don’t need a king and we don’t need a symbolic representative to the rest of the world.

            1. I agree we’d be better off without a lot of politics, but like war, politics is interested in you whether or not you are interested in it. Which means it’s often best to just go along with it.

      2. I still think the snub may have been intentional. A “see how it feels now?” response to France abandoning the US after we were attacked by Muslim extremists.

        Am I the only one around here who remembers freedom fries?

  6. I question the non-appearance, because it’s a little odd, given the nature of the current war(s) and diplomatic expectations, but do I think it really matters? No.

    Bush would’ve gone, but they would’ve bitched about him going. So it’s all the same, really.

    1. Bush would have gone or sent someone of appropriate stature. That fact says nothing beyond showing that Bush, possessed some basic competency at the day to day job of being President and Obama doesn’t.

      It is fun to rip him for being on the other side or secretly thinking the cartoonists got what was coming to them, but that is almost certainly not true. The reality is that Obama just sucks at his job and had no idea not going or sending someone was a bad idea. As Tarran points out often, Obama is a narcissist. He probably looked at this and wasn’t interested since he wouldn’t be the center of attention. If it is not about Obama, he is not interested. So he blew it off and since he is incompetent, he did so not realizing it would be such a big deal.

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    1. Wait, how do I know you even know Miguel?

      1. Miguel is his aunt’s best friend’s cousin.

        1. Oh, okay. Just checking.

  8. “‘The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam”

    He already said ‘Fuck you Charlie’ before the fact.

    As has been pointed out already by the commentariat here, he could not go after vomiting up that attack on free speech. I wish he had gone, I would love to have heard what he had to say. We would no doubt have another gem like the one I already quoted.

    1. Add in that that the guy that prompted his comment was jailed. Which raises the question would he jail the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo?

      1. It’s a good bet that the stuff you mention is exactly why Obama skipped the rally. Had he shown up there’s a good chance we’d be seeing his caricature on the cover of Charlie’s next edition. At the very least his presence would have been great fodder for satirists.

  9. +1 weird trick

  10. Maybe the seat next to Denmark’s hot PM was already taken? If Obama can’t sit next to her and take a selfie, why show up?

    I think it was dumb not to send someone to Paris for this. But it isn’t like it is the end of the world.

    1. Or maybe Michelle ixnayed the trip because of that selfie at Mandela’s funeral?

      1. Or Valerie thought it might tick off the Muslim Brotherhood or the Iranians.

  11. I think Obama should have gone just for the symbolism but what’s worse is he apologized for the snub. He should have just kept quiet but instead made a fool of himself – again. His tone-deafness is really unbelievable.

  12. Randy Weber is the nullity that replaced Ron Paul.

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