woody_zimmerman_118_2007Almost daily I hear and read commentators who wonder what President Obama is doing with national security, as he releases prisoners from Guantanamo prison, treats dangerous foreign satrapies with kid gloves, and goes around the world apologizing for America’s “sins.” Now he is letting Attorney General Eric Holder proceed with prosecution of CIA operatives from the Bush administration for “crimes” related to torture of enemy combatants. The country is in an uproar over this, with former national security officials denouncing this controversial and – in their eyes – potentially damaging decision.

What is going on? Why is the Obama administration doing this? Is it really a matter of liberal “principle?” Or is there a deeper purpose?

It’s not easy to follow the pea under the Obama shells, but I perceive a pattern starting to emerge here. That pattern is “diversion.” The Obama game plan seems to call for using various aspects of national security to divert media and public attention away from a major domestic initiative that is running into trouble. Right now, that major initiative is health care reform.

The country has been in turmoil for weeks over congressional proposals for fundamental change in how health care is delivered and paid for. Raucous crowds of well-dressed people, many of them retirees, have showed up at town meetings to shout their concerns at congressmen and senators. At a town meeting in Lebanon, PA, Senator Arlen Specter was plainly shocked at the direct talk some of the goodly citizens gave him. This unprecedented upheaval from a normally quiet segment of the electorate so shocked both the Congress and the president that they assumed the demonstrations must have been staged and paid for by commercial interests – or so they said.

One congresswoman said the protestors were “too well dressed” – as though protestors couldn’t be legitimate unless they were wearing “ghetto garb” (presumably with butt-cracks showing). The president’s chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, called the town-meeting protests “Astroturf” – by way of debunking the idea that the protestors are a grass-roots response to the health-care proposals. Mr. Gibbs was essentially saying that they were “artificial grass-roots,” hired by interests that want to stop reform – i.e., Republicans and insurance companies.

Others Democrats have echoed this refrain, but some have gone even farther – calling the town-hall people “brown-shirts” or Nazis, in attempts to discredit the legitimacy of their questions and arguments. The media have mostly repeated these charges without serious attempts to find if anyone is actually being paid to demonstrate, or if any protestors belong to radical, Nazi-like groups. One suspects that very few fit those categories.

Indeed, investigations by Fox News and other conservative news organs show that Democrats have sent union members to oppose the protestors at town meetings. In general, these efforts have crashed, having produced violence that obviously didn’t come from grandmas and grandpas who came to meetings to protect their Medicare benefits or to protest the concept of “death panels.”

As all this has been happening, Mr. Obama’s numbers have steadily declined until his disapproval rating now exceeds his approval rating – a first for him. (The August 28 Rasmussen Report showed that 32% of voters strongly approve of Mr. Obama’s performance as president, while 40% strongly disapprove – a lowest-ever spread of -8%.)

Things looked to be spinning out of control, so I wondered what diversion the Chicago Gang would spring to take media/public attention off the train-wreck of health-care reform. This week we saw the answer when Mr. Holder announced that he would investigate and possibly prosecute Bush-era CIA operatives for using illegal “torture” methods to interrogate terrorist captives. This is Obama’s diversion du jour.

The Diversion Strategy is multi-faceted, however. For the past week, Mr. Obama and his family have been vacationing at posh digs in Martha’s Vineyard, where the weekly tab is $30,000, give or take a few bucks. This has excited the populist instincts of the media – including conservative organs – who went for the story like hounds after a truck full of liver. A week of tsk-tsking over the First Family’s extravagant living has only served to push the health-care reform bill onto the back pages – undoubtedly just as planned by the Axelrod-Emanuel axis.

In addition, the Obama brain trust readily exploits “events of opportunity,” as they occur, with the Mainstream Media’s ready complicity. On August 21, Scottish authorities gave Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi – the conspirator convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 – “compassionate early release” because he has terminal cancer. The unrepentant terrorist, who planted the bomb which mercilessly destroyed the lives of 270 innocent people – including over 100 Americans and 11 residents of Lockerbie – had served only 8 years of his life sentence for the crime. It does not appear that the Obama administration made any serious move to dissuade the Scottish government from the release. Obama spokesmen did say that Mr. Obama had asked Libyan officials not to “celebrate” the return of Mr. Al Megrahi.

Notwithstanding Mr.Obama’s profound influence among the violent peoples of the Middle East, Libya’s resurgent leader, Moammar Qaddafi, blew off the no-celebration request and staged a disgusting hero’s welcome at the airport for the Lockerbie Bomber. The Obama government’s expressions of “grave concern” – coupled with angry congressional demands for “investigations” of the release – served only to create additional diversions from domestic deliberations of great import to the country. The Lockerbie Bomber has displaced the rancorous town meetings in the news. Mr. Obama is taking our attention off health care, and the media are helping him do it.

As I write this, another “convenient death” has also helped push the health-care debate out of the news. In July, Michael Jackson died one day before the House vote on Cap and Trade legislation – Henry Waxman’s crack-brained plan that could cripple the country’s economy for no real purpose except additional taxes. The media ran madly after the Jackson-story while C&T sneaked over the line, almost unnoticed. Now Senator Edward Kennedy has died. Media will obsess over his passing for weeks, giving additional cover to Mr. Obama and the Congress as they make deals – well away from the public’s view – to move the health care bill along to passage.

This is Obamapolitik – using national security and other incidents to divert public attention away from troublesome items. Does it feel vaguely familiar? It could be called Clintonpolitik, because the Clinton administration used it to great advantage. Every time Mr. Clinton got in deep doo-doo over his adventures with the ladies or his impeachment, he seemed to find it necessary to bomb something. On one occasion the “military” target turned out to be a factory that produced milk for babies. As we were not at war, the military strikes pushed the president’s domestic troubles onto the back pages, as intended. Generally, the strategy was very effective, as fierce, anti-war liberals gave our loveable lug of a president a pass on his bombing diversions. (Boys will be boys.)

Mr. Obama has been a good student of the Diversion Strategy. He’s learning on the job. As free people – at least for the nonce – our job is to notice what he’s doing while the diversions are operating. Watch the other hand.