Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 25, 2010

A World of Difference

Throughout the campaign and much of the first year of Obama’s presidency, the media mavens who saw in Obama the perfect exemplar of themselves — urban and urbane, credentialed, culturally hip, and sufficiently disdainful of American exceptionalism — told us that Obama may have lacked experience, but he excelled in temperament and in judgment. Now it seems that isn’t so at all.

Since it’s not so cool to be seen engaging in Obama boosterism, some of the fawners are fessing up: Obama’s supposedly superior temperament wasn’t so superior. Mark Halperin (co-author of Game Change) explains:

What once seemed a refreshing confidence and placid control in Obama — his staff adopted the catch phrase ‘never too high, never too low’ to describe their boss’ temperament – – now, two years later, often translates as a detachment from the daily concerns of the American public. … A year after his inauguration, many Americans still complain they find him too remote, too removed. They want to see him show a little anger or passion when talking about lost jobs, the limping economy and terrorist threats. Obama’s tendency to rely on a small cluster of advisers has hurt him too.

The press went to the mat for Obama, yet now we learn that even during the campaign, there were signals that he lacked some important presidential qualities:

Yet there were signs along the way that Obama’s reserved demeanor might be a liability as well as an advantage. During the interminable series of Democratic debates beginning in April 2007, Obama’s professorial tone and discursive drift made him seem weak and windy. Razor-sharp Clinton bested him nearly every time.

At the height of the primary season, when Obama remarked at a fund-raiser in San Francisco that struggling small-towners in Pennsylvania and the Midwest “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” he came across as elitist and cold, unconcerned with the real lives of real people.

This is as much an indictment of Obama as of the sycophantic press that raised nary a critical word during the campaign and instead spent its investigative energies and venom on Sarah Palin (who turned out to be more in sync with the electorate on health-care reform, climate change, and anti-terrorism policy than the suave sophisticate whom the press raved about). As Halperin sheepishly concedes:

Perhaps the President needs a political upheaval to shake him up – something like what happened in September 2008, after Sarah Palin made her dramatic debut on the Republican ticket. The usually unflappable Obama suddenly found himself unbalanced in the face of a plain-speaking, instantly popular adversary. … But with his health care plan on the rocks the sudden emergence of another Republican supernova, Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who has connected with voters through optimism, defiance and cheer — and who could serve as a bellwether for 2010 and 2012 — Obama may finally be forced to take heed and make some changes himself.

So far, we see no sign of Obama taking much of anything to heart. But this time, the same members of the media may not be so forgiving. They really don’t want to be played for fools twice.

Throughout the campaign and much of the first year of Obama’s presidency, the media mavens who saw in Obama the perfect exemplar of themselves — urban and urbane, credentialed, culturally hip, and sufficiently disdainful of American exceptionalism — told us that Obama may have lacked experience, but he excelled in temperament and in judgment. Now it seems that isn’t so at all.

Since it’s not so cool to be seen engaging in Obama boosterism, some of the fawners are fessing up: Obama’s supposedly superior temperament wasn’t so superior. Mark Halperin (co-author of Game Change) explains:

What once seemed a refreshing confidence and placid control in Obama — his staff adopted the catch phrase ‘never too high, never too low’ to describe their boss’ temperament – – now, two years later, often translates as a detachment from the daily concerns of the American public. … A year after his inauguration, many Americans still complain they find him too remote, too removed. They want to see him show a little anger or passion when talking about lost jobs, the limping economy and terrorist threats. Obama’s tendency to rely on a small cluster of advisers has hurt him too.

The press went to the mat for Obama, yet now we learn that even during the campaign, there were signals that he lacked some important presidential qualities:

Yet there were signs along the way that Obama’s reserved demeanor might be a liability as well as an advantage. During the interminable series of Democratic debates beginning in April 2007, Obama’s professorial tone and discursive drift made him seem weak and windy. Razor-sharp Clinton bested him nearly every time.

At the height of the primary season, when Obama remarked at a fund-raiser in San Francisco that struggling small-towners in Pennsylvania and the Midwest “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” he came across as elitist and cold, unconcerned with the real lives of real people.

This is as much an indictment of Obama as of the sycophantic press that raised nary a critical word during the campaign and instead spent its investigative energies and venom on Sarah Palin (who turned out to be more in sync with the electorate on health-care reform, climate change, and anti-terrorism policy than the suave sophisticate whom the press raved about). As Halperin sheepishly concedes:

Perhaps the President needs a political upheaval to shake him up – something like what happened in September 2008, after Sarah Palin made her dramatic debut on the Republican ticket. The usually unflappable Obama suddenly found himself unbalanced in the face of a plain-speaking, instantly popular adversary. … But with his health care plan on the rocks the sudden emergence of another Republican supernova, Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who has connected with voters through optimism, defiance and cheer — and who could serve as a bellwether for 2010 and 2012 — Obama may finally be forced to take heed and make some changes himself.

So far, we see no sign of Obama taking much of anything to heart. But this time, the same members of the media may not be so forgiving. They really don’t want to be played for fools twice.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Robert Gibbs thinks the administration made the right call Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber. Dennis Blair said no one really thought it through. One of them is off the reservation. Unfortunately, I think in this case it’s Blair. The Obami never make errors, don’t you know?

Not even on health care. Gibbs also says that the Massachusetts election doesn’t prove nuthin’ about nuthin’. (Democrats have to be praying that this is an act and that the White House doesn’t truly believe this.)

Back on planet Earth, Sen. Evan Bayh “gets cold feet” about pushing unpopular health-care legislation through Congress using parliamentary tricks on a party-line vote. It’s not clear whether he’s an outlier or the beginning of a trend toward political sanity in his party.

In a similar vein, Allahpundit catches Chris Matthews being sane, arguing for “reality” and against reconciliation to pass health care. Well, he was going up against Alan Grayson.

Noemie Emery thinks there’s a split on the Left: “Those edging their way toward the lifeboats are those members of the House and Senate who sooner or later have to be in touch with the voters. Those who want the bill passed (i.e., pushed down the throats of the howling public) are White House officials and pundits, bloggers, academicians, talk show hosts, and others who don’t face reelection in this year or any, and will even find their business improving if the bill passes and all hell breaks loose. The pundits, who have no skin in this game since they will not get fired, have transferred their soaring contempt for the American people to their beleaguered House members. ‘Jump! Jump!’ they cry to the quivering congressfolk. No sacrifice is too great for others to make for their dreams.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, the White House so far is with the “Jump! Jump!” crowd, raising the question as to whether Obama really wants a second term or simply thinks he’s immune to the same forces that are knocking down fellow Democrats one by one.

If the elections were held today, Larry Sabato and Nate Silver think the Democratic majority would shrink to 52 seats in the Senate (h/t Michael Barone). But the elections aren’t being held today, and lots can change in 10 months.

It’s Republican confidence and the loss of all those seats that may spare the country any more noxious legislation. The Washington Post agrees: “Obama’s biggest priorities — overhauling health care, expanding college aid, reducing climate change — are now in limbo, facing dim prospects as Republicans show little interest in cooperating, and Democrats brace for a 2010 midterm election year potentially as volatile as 1994, when the GOP captured the Senate and the House two years after Bill Clinton was elected president.” Probably didn’t help that, as Democrats now complain, Obama was “too hands-off, too absent.” Or that the country tuned him out.

Mickey Kaus points out that “comparative effectiveness” research is a crock. Obama, Kaus argues, either “has an average President’s shallow understanding of the subject,” is trying to make “bending the cost curve” look painless when it really involves making value judgments to deny care, or is practicing willful ignorance. Could be some combination of all three, of course.

In California, front-runner Meg Whitman is narrowing the gap with Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial race. Hey, if Massachusetts is in play, California is in play.

Robert Gibbs thinks the administration made the right call Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber. Dennis Blair said no one really thought it through. One of them is off the reservation. Unfortunately, I think in this case it’s Blair. The Obami never make errors, don’t you know?

Not even on health care. Gibbs also says that the Massachusetts election doesn’t prove nuthin’ about nuthin’. (Democrats have to be praying that this is an act and that the White House doesn’t truly believe this.)

Back on planet Earth, Sen. Evan Bayh “gets cold feet” about pushing unpopular health-care legislation through Congress using parliamentary tricks on a party-line vote. It’s not clear whether he’s an outlier or the beginning of a trend toward political sanity in his party.

In a similar vein, Allahpundit catches Chris Matthews being sane, arguing for “reality” and against reconciliation to pass health care. Well, he was going up against Alan Grayson.

Noemie Emery thinks there’s a split on the Left: “Those edging their way toward the lifeboats are those members of the House and Senate who sooner or later have to be in touch with the voters. Those who want the bill passed (i.e., pushed down the throats of the howling public) are White House officials and pundits, bloggers, academicians, talk show hosts, and others who don’t face reelection in this year or any, and will even find their business improving if the bill passes and all hell breaks loose. The pundits, who have no skin in this game since they will not get fired, have transferred their soaring contempt for the American people to their beleaguered House members. ‘Jump! Jump!’ they cry to the quivering congressfolk. No sacrifice is too great for others to make for their dreams.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, the White House so far is with the “Jump! Jump!” crowd, raising the question as to whether Obama really wants a second term or simply thinks he’s immune to the same forces that are knocking down fellow Democrats one by one.

If the elections were held today, Larry Sabato and Nate Silver think the Democratic majority would shrink to 52 seats in the Senate (h/t Michael Barone). But the elections aren’t being held today, and lots can change in 10 months.

It’s Republican confidence and the loss of all those seats that may spare the country any more noxious legislation. The Washington Post agrees: “Obama’s biggest priorities — overhauling health care, expanding college aid, reducing climate change — are now in limbo, facing dim prospects as Republicans show little interest in cooperating, and Democrats brace for a 2010 midterm election year potentially as volatile as 1994, when the GOP captured the Senate and the House two years after Bill Clinton was elected president.” Probably didn’t help that, as Democrats now complain, Obama was “too hands-off, too absent.” Or that the country tuned him out.

Mickey Kaus points out that “comparative effectiveness” research is a crock. Obama, Kaus argues, either “has an average President’s shallow understanding of the subject,” is trying to make “bending the cost curve” look painless when it really involves making value judgments to deny care, or is practicing willful ignorance. Could be some combination of all three, of course.

In California, front-runner Meg Whitman is narrowing the gap with Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial race. Hey, if Massachusetts is in play, California is in play.

Read Less




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