For the media, "Mission Accomplished" represents everything that was wrong with the George W. Bush administration and its war policy. The image of Bush declaring unequivocal victory mere weeks after the invasion of Iraq has been ballyhooed as a visual representation of Bush's arrogance, naivete, even dishonesty (the media contrived most of this meme - more on that below).
Will Barack Obama have a "Mission Accomplished" moment? That is, will the media seize on something he or his administration has said as evidence of the large gap between his rhetoric and the effects of his policies and tout it for years to come as indicative of his flawed style of governing?
The gap already exists. The White House's "Recovery Summer" initiative and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's statement, "welcome to the recovery" are completely divorced from economic reality. The only question is whether the media will seize on the catchy and baseless slogans (the two criteria of the "Mission Accomplished" media standard) coming from the White House to illustrate the sizable gap between this administration's rhetoric, and the facts on ground, so to speak.
First, it should be noted that the "Mission Accomplished" meme, as trumpeted by the media since May, 2003, is largely a myth. Bush never delivered those words in the context portrayed by many media liberals. The phrase was never actually uttered on the USS Abraham Lincoln, where Bush spoke in front of a banner displaying the infamous phrase.
In fact, the banner was draped from the ship with little involvement or input from the White House. And Bush, during the speech on May 1, 2003, made sure to note that "Our mission continues" and that "We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide." In other words, Bush plainly stated that the overarching mission was not accomplished.
Granted, he did say the following to a group of troops a month later: "America sent you on a mission to remove a grave threat and to liberate an oppressed people, and that mission has been accomplished."
But in the context of the time, that statement was true. A grave threat in the Iraqi dictator had been removed, and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that bore the brunt of his dictatorial rule had been liberated.
The lesson: truth matters less than perception and a coherent narrative in the creation of iconic images that promote or dog entire presidencies. The media's "Mission Accomplished" meme abandoned truth in favor of a pithy and memorable way to get across a point they were already trying to make: the war effort was a bad idea.
The Chicago Tribune channeled the media's less flustered critics of the "Mission Accomplished" statement, calling it "dramatically premature." The New York Times, on the other hand, labeled it a product of the president's "Never Never Land" mentality on Iraq.
"Welcome to the recovery" is certainly no less deserving - more so, in fact - of the iconic status afforded "Mission Accomplished" and the media's disdain. Short, catchy, and lacking any real basis in reality, the phrase perfectly captures the Obama administration's fingers-in-the-ears attitude towards their own economic policies.
Three days after Geithner made his "welcome to the recovery" proclamation in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, the economy shed 131,000 jobs. The administration and its left-wing media cheerleaders touted the 71,000 private sector jobs created, not mentioning of course that about double that number would need to materialize for the economy to keep pace with new entrants in the job market.
Ed Morrissey explains the numbers in more detail:
This isn't a Recovery Summer. It's a slow slide, certainly better than the rapid disintegration of 2009, but we haven't replaced those jobs yet, either. Job losses are cumulative. In a normal recovery with proper economic policies of lower barriers to investor entry, we would see a rapid replacement of jobs in this time frame that would take us back to somewhere around 80% of what was lost, with the remaining 20% being the most difficult to recover. We have not yet even begun that ascent. I'll update this with a couple of slides later this morning to demonstrate the problem.
Expect the White House to hail the best private-sector job creation numbers since March, but economists won't get fooled. We're still descending, and will until we get job creation solidly above 100,000 new additions per month.
That Geithner's "welcome to the recovery" statement was "dramatically premature" seems an understatement. Is Tim Geithner stuck in Never Never Land?
The Treasury Secretary's declaration of the non-recovery recovery came in the middle of what the White House has formally dubbed its "Recovery Summer" campaign. The effort aims to promote "the surge in Recovery Act infrastructure projects that will be underway across the country in the coming months - and the jobs they'll create well into the fall and through the end of the year," according to a release.
"Summer 2010 is actually poised to be the most active Recovery Act season yet," the White House claimed in June. Total job losses during "Recovery Summer" have totaled 352,000 so far. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, has declined slightly, indicating that thousands of Americans have given up on their searches for jobs.
In short, the "Recovery Summer" label is a joke, even given the modest (and that's putting it generously) private-sector job creation so far this year. But will the media treat it with the disdain they did Bush's "Mission Accomplished"? Will they call out Geithner for welcoming Americans to a non-existent recovery?
If the economy doesn't start gaining some steam, media neutrality will truly be put to the test.