Yesterday’s speech by President Obama at the U.N. General Assembly represented another precedent-breaking politicization of a platform previously not-politicized by a U.S. president for the purposes of attacking domestic political opponents. I discussed this this morning with The New York Times’ Michael Shear:
BO: We have to put our money where our mouths are. And we can only realize the promise of this institution’s founding to replace the ravages of war with cooperation if powerful nations like my own accept constraints. Sometimes, I’m criticized in my own country for professing a belief in international norms and multilateral institutions. But I am convince that in the long run, giving up some freedom of action, not giving up our ability to protect ourselves or pursue our core interests, but binding ourselves to international rules over the long term enhances our security.
HH: Welcome back, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt. Joined now by Michael Shear, White House correspondent of the New York Times to talk about yesterday’s extraordinary UN speech by the President. Good morning, Michael, thanks for getting up early.
MS: Sure. Happy to do it.
HH: Let me begin with the statement. I’ve followed a lot of presidents going to the UNGA, as they call it, the U.N. General Assembly. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a president make as nakedly a partisan speech about American domestic politics as President Obama did yesterday. Have you?
MS: Well, look, those speeches are always imbued with domestic political consideration. They never take place completely in a vacuum. I think they’re always, and that tendency increases in an election year. But this one was, you know, clearly what he had in mind throughout much of that speech was the ways in which this particular election campaign, which as we know, he’s been completely dismayed by from his perspective. You know, so much of what he said was really in the back of his mind about the ways in which he thinks his foreign policy and his foreign policy legacy are going to be affected by whatever happens coming out of this race.
HH: But it was an attack. I mean, just, at least it was treated in the media and by me as an attack on Donald Trump. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS: I think there were clearly places where what he said was intended, if not explicitly then certainly was barely veiled as a criticism of Donald Trump and what Donald Trump has said, and suggested he would do if he got elected president. Absolutely, I agree.
HH: So Michael, the question is, and I don’t know, I don’t want to put you on the spot. No one’s actually gone back and listened to George H.W. Bush in 1992 or George W. Bush in 2008. I just don’t remember ever, and I’m 60 years old, I’ve listened to a lot of these, a president of the United States using the UN to attack a domestic political opponent. I really do not think it’s ever happened, and it’s remarkable if it’s never happened. If I’m right about that, isn’t it a remarkable moment that went largely unremarked upon?
MS: You know, I think it would be a great exercise, and I, you know, to go back and listen to, to go to the election year speeches at the UN, and to listen to them and see what happened. Keep in mind, I think, though, that the context matters. ’92, for example, might have been a year where domestic policy was kind of more at the center of things, given the kind of economic situation and where foreign policy had been. You know, I’d have to go back and think some more about ’96, for example. But look, I think you’re, I don’t think you’re wrong. I mean, I think that this campaign and the raw partisan politics in this campaign have dominated a lot. And it probably should have gotten more attention. Keep in mind, there’s a lot going on this week with the terror attacks in New York City and everything else. So you know, I’m not surprised that it didn’t get a lot of attention, but I think it probably should have gotten more.
HH: Yeah, Alex Castellanos took some grief for the unfortunate use of a word I would not use, referring to the president as other, because I think that feeds some of the far right wing, you know, crazy stuff about the President.
HH: I believe the President is a Christian, an American, and was born in Hawaii, so let’s get that on the record. What I think Alex was trying to say is he breaks norms. He does stuff that no one has ever done. He politicizes everything. And I, into that narrative of a purely, thoroughly left wing political ideologue, President Obama’s speech yesterday was massively disappointing to me as an internationalist. And I think you can expect more of the same. The next president gets to do the same thing. And so Michael, I’m just shaking my head at the fact that maybe it is too busy. We did have terrorism attacks, and then last night, we had another shooting in North Carolina. And let me close there. Will the President speak to the Tulsa incident and the North Carolina incident, because this is another overarching narrative in this campaign which is deeply disturbing.
MS: Yeah, I mean, look, I wondered the same thing when I woke up. I actually saw some of the stuff from North Carolina, and for a moment, didn’t, thought it was Tulsa. So I mean, you know, there is usually a tipping point in these incidents where you know, initially the White House kind of stands back a little bit and sees sort of how these things are going to develop. And it’s hard to imagine that given now both of these incidents and the way they seem to be going that he won’t be compelled to say something. In what forum, I’m not sure. He’s still at the UN until the end of today. And, but I would think, though, by the end of the week, we’ll hear from him.
HH: It’s going to be another opportunity to either de-politicize or up the political ante. I hope he chooses the former. Michael Shear of the New York Times, follow him on Twitter, @ShearM.
End of interview.