The Lion or the Fox: Obama is Now Taking Questions

Obama has tried to present an image for his administration of absolute transparency despite the fact that his administration has overseen the most closed and controlling White House in basically all of presidential history. But things might be changing.

Ever since Carney was replaced as Obama’s Press Secretary, Obama has been taking questions. Sometimes a few at a time. Even from reporters that were not previously on his approved question list:

President Barack Obama had just done the unthinkable.

He took questions last week from the White House press corps—not just once, but twice. He didn’t call only on the reporters who were selected ahead of time by his senior aides. . . .

This never used to happen in the Obama White House, a place so obsessed with message control that the president could go months without talking with the press corps. However, in the past seven weeks, Obama has taken questions an average of once a week. . . .

The start of this approach roughly aligned with the turnover in early June of press secretaries from Jay Carney to [Josh] Earnest, whose pitch for the job included cultivating better relationships with the reporters who cover the president. It wasn’t exactly driven by a renewed commitment to transparency, or the president suddenly deciding he likes reporters. Simply taking questions, White House staffers say, is not a smart communications strategy. But the occasional give-and-take, when it’s topical and targeted, very much serves their interests, aides said.

Perhaps Obama feels he has less to hide now. Or that he has less to lose. Or perhaps his new Press Secretary has convinced him that a show of transparency might go a long way in changing his presidential image. I don’t know.

But one thing is for sure. This is a ploy—a political strategy. I hope it backfires, but it probably won’t. We are far too easily fooled by the illusion of voluntariness. We think that just because the civil government is not forcing us to do things, that automatically means the civil government is not attempting to control us. How long are we going to fall for that?

We live in a different time. Dictators no longer resort to force and violence as readily as they adopt deception, manipulation, and leverage. There are two paths to Machievellian control, and Machievelli himself outlined them—the Lion and the Fox, force and craft. Obama may have given up the Lion for the time being. But that just means he’s taken up the mantle of the Fox. It’s hard to say which is more dangerous.