The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.
Mr. Remnick, it’s worth noting, appeared on the November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose discussing the election of Obama. Mr. Remnick compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign, he said, “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Mr. Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick–who was nearly in tears during portions of the interview, which included historians–finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.”
Such Obama adulation is impossible to sustain these days, with the Obama presidency in ruins. Mr. Remnick has therefore decided the thing to do is to make excuses for Obama. And so on Sunday’s roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week, Remnick said this:
He’s pretty stifled [legislatively]. It’s frustrating to see his projection of frustration. You want him to suck it up and keep going at it and leading and leading. But I think history is going to show that this presidency has been stifled at every angle.
Actually, for the first two years of his presidency Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, “cash for clunkers,” financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.” Mr. Remnick’s comments, then, are quite misleading.
To be sure, after the epic blowout Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm elections, the president has been stifled in many areas (though he is getting around that by taking a series of lawless acts). But the crushing defeat of Democrats was precisely because Obama got his way on so many things and the public was unhappy with the results. Since then, they have grown more disenchanted, to the point that Obama’s approval ratings are now among the lowest ever for a president at this juncture in his term and Republicans, right now at least, are favored to take control of the Senate. Since defending Obama isn’t easy these days, expect people like Remnick to train their fury on Republicans, attempting to portray them as nihilistic and all the rest. The thinking here is that while Obama may not be perfect–on second thought, he may not be the equal of Lincoln–Republicans are malicious and malevolent. That is the political narrative that is supposed to save New Yorker-style liberalism.
One other thing: In the context of the discussion about the president sending signals he is going to sign an executive order giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Remnick said this: “The immigration issue, first of all, I think a lot of people at this table are here because of America’s openness to immigration. I think that’s fair to say.”
It also irrelevant to the discussion. As Remnick’s co-panelist William Kristol pointed out, Remnick conflated legal immigration with illegal immigration. They are quite distinct, and our approaches to them should be, too. To treat the debate over illegal immigration as if it’s a debate about legal immigration is once again misleading.
And let’s examine the logic of Remnick’s position. It goes something like this: Most of us are here because somewhere in the past our relatives were legally allowed to immigrate to America, so we should have completely open borders and allow everyone in who wants to settle in America. QED. If the suffering peoples of Latin America, Africa, and other continents want to come to America, on what grounds is Mr. Remnick going to say no? Is there a limit to the number of people we can take in? A million? Ten million? Fifty million? A hundred million? And should we give priority to the people living in, say, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti? If someone says we have to draw some lines on illegal immigration, will Remnick’s response be, first of all, most of the people making those arguments are here because of America’s openness to immigration and so they have no standing to make their case?
It’s fascinating to see how people’s political biases distort not just their objectivity but their reasoning ability. David Remnick is hardly the worst example of this; in fact, he perfectly represents a certain slice of the political class. He is a man who is intelligent but not wise, who is dogmatic even as he has convinced himself he is a model of objectivity. To be rigidly ideological is bad enough; to be so blind to it is even worse.