Friday, October 25, 2013

What should we think when political people conflict on what they say

Learning of the latest dispute involving the Republican distaste for President Barack Obama reminded me of an old incident right here at City Hall – one in which then-Mayor Richard M. Daley didn’t come across as looking that good.

DURBIN: Says somebody insulted president
I recall that the Chicago Sun-Times came up with a story related to the McCormick Place convention center that infuriated Daley!

HE MADE PUBLIC statements to the press corps at City Hall about how the newspaper was so wrong and must have shown its complete ignorance by taking comments so far out of context that they made no sense.

There was just one problem – the on-the-record source for that particular story (whose minutia was so intense that I must confess to not even remembering the specifics) was then-Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority director John Schmidt.

I specifically remember calling Schmidt that morning (I worked for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago back then) to talk to him about the story, and he told me that the Sun-Times had quoted him accurately – and gotten all its facts right.

It’s a minor dispute of facts. It wouldn’t shock me to learn that I’m the only person who even remembers this particular story.

BUT IT WAS a lesson I learned about how seriously we should take it when people start attacking the legitimacy of what gets reported.

Sometimes, the denials shouldn’t be taken that seriously. Some people just want to be able to say something didn’t happen.

OBAMA: Ignoring the slur
While others are willing to let the word about something get out, while having their own reasons for not wanting to publicly stand behind it later.

And sometimes, there are just conflicts amongst the various officials. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

ALL OF WHICH is relevant to comprehending the dispute concerning Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who had his people put something on his Facebook page about the Republican official who supposedly told the president to his face, “I cannot even stand to look at you.”

Aides to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, quickly made a point of saying they want a retraction and an apology for what they say is a, “reckless allegation.”

Obama’s official spokesman said he looked into the incident, and couldn’t find any evidence that anybody had the nerve to say that directly to the president.

BOEHNER: He's outraged!!!
“It did not happen,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporter-types at the White House, with officials later using the word "misunderstanding" to describe why it was thought something bad was said.

YET DURBIN STILL says it did, going so far as to use the incident in a fundraising pitch. He's definitely not going along with the rants coming from House Republicans who are demanding that Durbin cough up his source for the tidbit and apologize for besmirching their reputation – which in the overall scheme of things isn’t all that important.

Is anyone shocked to learn that the distaste for Obama is so intense in certain quarters that there are people who don’t want to work with him? The underlying premise of this tidbit is so apparent that it is beyond dispute!

Personally, I don’t have any first-hand information about this moment. I don’t know who said it, or exactly when. Or what Durbin’s motivation for passing along trivial gossip would be if that is what truly has occurred.

In fact, I’m not about to take it as any sign that Obama and Durbin are in some sort of long-term political split. I don’t think the Daley/Schmidt dynamic was impacted much by the long-ago difference in public statements.

IF ANYTHING, I’M inclined to think the Obama camp wants to downplay this particular incident because it supposedly occurred during the now-complete talks to end the federal government shutdown that lasted for 16 days.

What’s the point of dredging up old trivia about how people don’t like the president and let their personal taste influence their politics. He’s forgiving, in that sense. Maybe he realizes there will be many more insults in the future for him to get worked up over.

Or maybe Obama is just following a pair of axioms given to us by the fictional Don Vito Corleone. “It’s business, not personal.” And, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”


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