Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mark Halperin

The Sky Isn’t Falling for Democrats. It Fell.

Here’s Mark Halperin’s analysis of the Democratic Party:

Is it hyperbolic to say the Democratic Party is in the midst of a nervous breakdown? I have been covering national politics since 1988, and I don’t remember a situation quite like this. The signs of a crack-up are everywhere.

Halperin devotes the rest of his piece to explaining why “Thursday seemed to have donkeys melting down all over the place.”

I should add that for months and months, Halperin’s colleague Joe Klein gleefully mocked those writing for CONTENTIONS (most especially yours truly) for predicting that “the sky is falling” (a phrase Klein used endlessly) for Obama and Democrats. That is because we predicted long before the election — based on perfectly easy-to-read-and-analyze polling data — that Democrats were going to be routed. And in fact they were.

It turns out that the sky really did fall — and the man who portrayed himself as the professional among amateurs, the grizzled political reporter who has seen everything and heard everything, was really quite wrong on almost everything.

Here’s Mark Halperin’s analysis of the Democratic Party:

Is it hyperbolic to say the Democratic Party is in the midst of a nervous breakdown? I have been covering national politics since 1988, and I don’t remember a situation quite like this. The signs of a crack-up are everywhere.

Halperin devotes the rest of his piece to explaining why “Thursday seemed to have donkeys melting down all over the place.”

I should add that for months and months, Halperin’s colleague Joe Klein gleefully mocked those writing for CONTENTIONS (most especially yours truly) for predicting that “the sky is falling” (a phrase Klein used endlessly) for Obama and Democrats. That is because we predicted long before the election — based on perfectly easy-to-read-and-analyze polling data — that Democrats were going to be routed. And in fact they were.

It turns out that the sky really did fall — and the man who portrayed himself as the professional among amateurs, the grizzled political reporter who has seen everything and heard everything, was really quite wrong on almost everything.

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Another Attempt to Distract, Another Losing Issue

Obama’s attack on the Chamber of Commerce for its imaginary foreign donors hasn’t succeeded in distracting voters. Gallup reports:

Creating jobs and securing the country’s borders are most top-of-mind when Americans are asked what the federal government is currently not doing that it should be doing. …

The poll also asked the reverse question — what is the federal government currently doing that it should not be doing? Overall, Americans are somewhat less likely to offer a specific response on this question (71% do), with healthcare legislation most commonly mentioned, by 18%.

Let’s see, the items voters care most about are the items Obama has done nothing about (immigration reform) or has made worse through his policies (taxing, regulating, passing mandates on employers).

Aside from it’s falsity, the Chamber of Commerce attack is peculiar. It’s not directly aimed at the GOP. (What is he saying, “Don’t elect Republicans because they may have taken money from the chamber, which I am accusing without evidence has foreign contributors“?) And it blows to smithereens the White House’s claim that the administration isn’t anti-business. Liberal blogger Greg Sargent observes:

The full-scale assault from the White House and Dems on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s groups shows no signs of abating. But is it already a political flop?

Some commentators are rushing to proclaim this offensive a political failure. Mark Halperin, for instance, wondered allowed today: “I’m not sure how this appeals to voters.” Halperin then stated this as outright fact: “It’s just not relevant to voters.”

Republicans are now entering the fray — and they, too, agree it’s a political flop, claiming that it will make Dems look anti-business. “All that Democrats have done is remind people of their anti-business fervor while drawing attention to the fact that their anti-growth policies have failed to put Americans back to work,” reads a statement from Eric Cantor’s office.

Well, it’s not the first, nor I suspect the last, desperate stunt and irrelevant issue Obama will toss out in the next three weeks. And it sure isn’t going to help Chuck Schumer raise big bucks from Wall Street. Like much of what the White House does, the chamber gambit has very little upside and quite some downside for the Democrats. The GOP can hardly believe its good fortune.

Obama’s attack on the Chamber of Commerce for its imaginary foreign donors hasn’t succeeded in distracting voters. Gallup reports:

Creating jobs and securing the country’s borders are most top-of-mind when Americans are asked what the federal government is currently not doing that it should be doing. …

The poll also asked the reverse question — what is the federal government currently doing that it should not be doing? Overall, Americans are somewhat less likely to offer a specific response on this question (71% do), with healthcare legislation most commonly mentioned, by 18%.

Let’s see, the items voters care most about are the items Obama has done nothing about (immigration reform) or has made worse through his policies (taxing, regulating, passing mandates on employers).

Aside from it’s falsity, the Chamber of Commerce attack is peculiar. It’s not directly aimed at the GOP. (What is he saying, “Don’t elect Republicans because they may have taken money from the chamber, which I am accusing without evidence has foreign contributors“?) And it blows to smithereens the White House’s claim that the administration isn’t anti-business. Liberal blogger Greg Sargent observes:

The full-scale assault from the White House and Dems on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s groups shows no signs of abating. But is it already a political flop?

Some commentators are rushing to proclaim this offensive a political failure. Mark Halperin, for instance, wondered allowed today: “I’m not sure how this appeals to voters.” Halperin then stated this as outright fact: “It’s just not relevant to voters.”

Republicans are now entering the fray — and they, too, agree it’s a political flop, claiming that it will make Dems look anti-business. “All that Democrats have done is remind people of their anti-business fervor while drawing attention to the fact that their anti-growth policies have failed to put Americans back to work,” reads a statement from Eric Cantor’s office.

Well, it’s not the first, nor I suspect the last, desperate stunt and irrelevant issue Obama will toss out in the next three weeks. And it sure isn’t going to help Chuck Schumer raise big bucks from Wall Street. Like much of what the White House does, the chamber gambit has very little upside and quite some downside for the Democrats. The GOP can hardly believe its good fortune.

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Media Quits Obama

An evaluation of Obama:

Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment. And it is too late for him to do anything about this predicament until after November’s elections.

With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.

George Will? The Wall Street Journal editors? No, it’s Time‘s Mark Halperin, known for his talent in parroting Democratic conventional wisdom. The mainstream media, it seems, are cutting their losses. They invested enormous time, credibility, and emotion in bolstering their chosen candidate. But he hasn’t panned out, and new power players are headed to Washington. So it’s time to scramble back to some semblance of realistic coverage and concede that all those “accomplishments” in the past two years didn’t accomplish anything — not an economic recovery, not political ascendancy for Obama, not electoral success for Democrats, and not an era of bipartisan harmony. Just the opposite.

Now, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as viable 2012 presidential contenders appear on the stage or the GOP Congress faces off with Obama, expect the press to return to blocking and tackling for the president. But the magic is gone, the spell is broken. The press has figured out two years later than many of us that Obama is simply another liberal pol — and, as it turns out, an extraordinarily unpleasant and incompetent one.

An evaluation of Obama:

Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment. And it is too late for him to do anything about this predicament until after November’s elections.

With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.

George Will? The Wall Street Journal editors? No, it’s Time‘s Mark Halperin, known for his talent in parroting Democratic conventional wisdom. The mainstream media, it seems, are cutting their losses. They invested enormous time, credibility, and emotion in bolstering their chosen candidate. But he hasn’t panned out, and new power players are headed to Washington. So it’s time to scramble back to some semblance of realistic coverage and concede that all those “accomplishments” in the past two years didn’t accomplish anything — not an economic recovery, not political ascendancy for Obama, not electoral success for Democrats, and not an era of bipartisan harmony. Just the opposite.

Now, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as viable 2012 presidential contenders appear on the stage or the GOP Congress faces off with Obama, expect the press to return to blocking and tackling for the president. But the magic is gone, the spell is broken. The press has figured out two years later than many of us that Obama is simply another liberal pol — and, as it turns out, an extraordinarily unpleasant and incompetent one.

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President Obama, Self-Deluded

In his weekly radio address, President Obama devoted a few perfunctory words to his economic plans — and then spent the next eight paragraphs excoriating the Republican party.

The following day, the New York Times published a front-page story, which reported that:

Democratic candidates across the country are opening a fierce offensive of negative advertisements against Republicans, using lawsuits, tax filings, reports from the Better Business Bureau and even divorce proceedings to try to discredit their opponents and save their Congressional majority. Opposition research and attack advertising are used in almost every election, but these biting ads are coming far earlier than ever before, according to party strategists. … As they struggle to break through with economic messages, many Democrats are deploying the fruits of a yearlong investigation into the business and personal histories of Republican candidates in an effort to plant doubts about them and avoid having races become a national referendum on the performance of President Obama and his party.

And to think I still recall the words of an idealistic young man running for president in 2008, from his acceptance speech: “The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook.” Barack Obama went on to speak about

the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

Yet Obama himself has become what he preached against: a deeply divisive and partisan politician — a man who, because he does not have a record to run on, is painting his opponents as individuals voters should run from. He is employing the stalest of tactics in the crudest way possible.

What makes all of this particularly damaging for Obama is that the core of his appeal as a candidate was not his governing philosophy or his record of achievement; it was the mood he created. According to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Obama “believed it was possible to rise above the distortions and j’accuses that has turned politics into the sort of unedifying blood sport from which so many Americans recoiled.” Obama believed he would “somehow transcend the horror show.” And sure enough, in his February 10, 2007 announcement speech, Obama placed aesthetics above policy specifics. What’s stopped us from meeting our challenges, Obama said

is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

These words now sound as if they were uttered by a different man in a different time with an entirely different set of values. As president, Mr. Obama has accelerated the worst tendencies in modern politics. Yet he maintains an almost self-hypnotic belief that he is what he once claimed to be. Facts and reality don’t matter; the image cannot be allowed to die.

There is something at once poignant and alarming in watching the president continue to engage in this play acting, unable to free himself from his own self-delusion.

In his weekly radio address, President Obama devoted a few perfunctory words to his economic plans — and then spent the next eight paragraphs excoriating the Republican party.

The following day, the New York Times published a front-page story, which reported that:

Democratic candidates across the country are opening a fierce offensive of negative advertisements against Republicans, using lawsuits, tax filings, reports from the Better Business Bureau and even divorce proceedings to try to discredit their opponents and save their Congressional majority. Opposition research and attack advertising are used in almost every election, but these biting ads are coming far earlier than ever before, according to party strategists. … As they struggle to break through with economic messages, many Democrats are deploying the fruits of a yearlong investigation into the business and personal histories of Republican candidates in an effort to plant doubts about them and avoid having races become a national referendum on the performance of President Obama and his party.

And to think I still recall the words of an idealistic young man running for president in 2008, from his acceptance speech: “The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook.” Barack Obama went on to speak about

the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

Yet Obama himself has become what he preached against: a deeply divisive and partisan politician — a man who, because he does not have a record to run on, is painting his opponents as individuals voters should run from. He is employing the stalest of tactics in the crudest way possible.

What makes all of this particularly damaging for Obama is that the core of his appeal as a candidate was not his governing philosophy or his record of achievement; it was the mood he created. According to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Obama “believed it was possible to rise above the distortions and j’accuses that has turned politics into the sort of unedifying blood sport from which so many Americans recoiled.” Obama believed he would “somehow transcend the horror show.” And sure enough, in his February 10, 2007 announcement speech, Obama placed aesthetics above policy specifics. What’s stopped us from meeting our challenges, Obama said

is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

These words now sound as if they were uttered by a different man in a different time with an entirely different set of values. As president, Mr. Obama has accelerated the worst tendencies in modern politics. Yet he maintains an almost self-hypnotic belief that he is what he once claimed to be. Facts and reality don’t matter; the image cannot be allowed to die.

There is something at once poignant and alarming in watching the president continue to engage in this play acting, unable to free himself from his own self-delusion.

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Whitman Skewers Brown

I don’t often agree with Mark Halperin’s political take, which is often indistinguishable from the Democratic talking points of the day. But it’s hard to quibble with his observation that the Meg Whitman ad using Bill Clinton to skewer Jerry Brown’s tax record as governor is “probably the best TV spot by any campaign all cycle.” It does three things that a devastating political ad must do.

First, it uses a well-known figure not obviously aligned with the candidate to attack her opponent (i.e., get a credible, independent critic). Second, it drills down on an issue central to the campaign (taxes) while also hitting the opponent on character. And finally, it’s not an obvious out-of-context clip. By allowing Clinton to speak at length (he was a fast talker!), Whitman avoids the charge that her ad is a “hatchet” job.

And sure enough, Whitman has Brown running in circles, forcing him to apologize to Clinton (whom Brown attacked when the ad was released).

Some observers questioned Whitman’s street smarts and political skill when the eBay CEO announced her run. She has shown, unlike her opponent (whose fondness for Nazi analogies got him in hot water earlier in the race), that she knows how to handle herself and tie her opponent in knots. The race remains close, but if this keeps up, California will get to test the proposition that government should be run more like a business. A successful one, we hope.

I don’t often agree with Mark Halperin’s political take, which is often indistinguishable from the Democratic talking points of the day. But it’s hard to quibble with his observation that the Meg Whitman ad using Bill Clinton to skewer Jerry Brown’s tax record as governor is “probably the best TV spot by any campaign all cycle.” It does three things that a devastating political ad must do.

First, it uses a well-known figure not obviously aligned with the candidate to attack her opponent (i.e., get a credible, independent critic). Second, it drills down on an issue central to the campaign (taxes) while also hitting the opponent on character. And finally, it’s not an obvious out-of-context clip. By allowing Clinton to speak at length (he was a fast talker!), Whitman avoids the charge that her ad is a “hatchet” job.

And sure enough, Whitman has Brown running in circles, forcing him to apologize to Clinton (whom Brown attacked when the ad was released).

Some observers questioned Whitman’s street smarts and political skill when the eBay CEO announced her run. She has shown, unlike her opponent (whose fondness for Nazi analogies got him in hot water earlier in the race), that she knows how to handle herself and tie her opponent in knots. The race remains close, but if this keeps up, California will get to test the proposition that government should be run more like a business. A successful one, we hope.

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Obama and Optical Illusions

Mark Halperin of Time magazine writes this:

In a move as predictable as Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Democrats are using Social Security scare tactics to gain ground before the November election. President Barack Obama is not only tolerating this classic old politics maneuver by his party — he is leading the charge.

Halperin adds:

Obama is living in a parallel Vulcan universe if he thinks he and his strategists can spend the next two months using campaign appearances, advertising, robocalls and other voter communication to demonize Republicans on Social Security, and then turn around in January and try to make a deal on that same issue. … It is hard to imagine that Obama can be the leader of such a process in 2011 if he takes the current, sky-high level of personal and political mistrust and elevates it further by using Social Security as a weapon of distortion in September and October. And yet it appears that the White House believes there is no contradiction or connection between those two sequential presidential goals. Obama may be a hyper-rational guy, but his current rhetoric on Social Security defies logic if he wants to have a productive 2011.

This Social Security gambit, which will fail politically (as has so much of what Obama and his aides have tried), is simply more evidence that the core premise of the Obama campaign — that he would transcend the usual divisions in American politics, that he would elevate our discourse and reach across the aisle in an unprecedented way, and that he would act reasonably and responsibly in facing America’s challenges — was a mirage. It was an effective optical illusion, but it was, in fact, an optical illusion. And every week, it seems, it is being revealed as such.

Mark Halperin of Time magazine writes this:

In a move as predictable as Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Democrats are using Social Security scare tactics to gain ground before the November election. President Barack Obama is not only tolerating this classic old politics maneuver by his party — he is leading the charge.

Halperin adds:

Obama is living in a parallel Vulcan universe if he thinks he and his strategists can spend the next two months using campaign appearances, advertising, robocalls and other voter communication to demonize Republicans on Social Security, and then turn around in January and try to make a deal on that same issue. … It is hard to imagine that Obama can be the leader of such a process in 2011 if he takes the current, sky-high level of personal and political mistrust and elevates it further by using Social Security as a weapon of distortion in September and October. And yet it appears that the White House believes there is no contradiction or connection between those two sequential presidential goals. Obama may be a hyper-rational guy, but his current rhetoric on Social Security defies logic if he wants to have a productive 2011.

This Social Security gambit, which will fail politically (as has so much of what Obama and his aides have tried), is simply more evidence that the core premise of the Obama campaign — that he would transcend the usual divisions in American politics, that he would elevate our discourse and reach across the aisle in an unprecedented way, and that he would act reasonably and responsibly in facing America’s challenges — was a mirage. It was an effective optical illusion, but it was, in fact, an optical illusion. And every week, it seems, it is being revealed as such.

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Obama Not Regretting His Backtracking Clarification

President Obama told reporters in Ohio today that he does not regret wading into the mosque/Ground Zero debate. Here’s Time magazine’s Mark Halperin’s take:

Really??!! Another presidential comment on this sensitive matter made on the fly in response to a press question? The political and substantive damage will continue until Obama explains his position in detail and (in a dignified and uplifting way) explains why his critics are wrong. This is a classic case of a politician losing control of his public image on a key issue — only in this instance, it has implications for the whole world.

Politics is an inherently messy profession; even the best practitioners of it slip up from time to time. But the depth of ineptitude on this issue that we’re seeing from the president and his White House, as well as the speaker of the House, is jaw-dropping. It is as if they were consciously thinking of ways to keep this story alive, to stoke the embers, and to further upset the public.

President Obama told reporters in Ohio today that he does not regret wading into the mosque/Ground Zero debate. Here’s Time magazine’s Mark Halperin’s take:

Really??!! Another presidential comment on this sensitive matter made on the fly in response to a press question? The political and substantive damage will continue until Obama explains his position in detail and (in a dignified and uplifting way) explains why his critics are wrong. This is a classic case of a politician losing control of his public image on a key issue — only in this instance, it has implications for the whole world.

Politics is an inherently messy profession; even the best practitioners of it slip up from time to time. But the depth of ineptitude on this issue that we’re seeing from the president and his White House, as well as the speaker of the House, is jaw-dropping. It is as if they were consciously thinking of ways to keep this story alive, to stoke the embers, and to further upset the public.

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Is the California Senate Seat in Play?

You betcha! A Democratic polling outfit — Public Policy Polling – shows:

Barbara Boxer, California’s junior senator, leads all three of her potential Republican opponents by single digits a little over five months before the November election. Boxer is ahead of leading Republican candidate Carly Fiorina by the slimmest margin of the three GOP contenders, 45-42.

Tom Campbell does the the worst, trailing Boxer by seven points. Perhaps that is why Obama keeps flying to California to fundraise and cheerlead for Boxer. Even that may not help; the same poll shows that less than a majority of Californians approve of his performance. Yeah, in California.

As Mark Halperin put it, with Dino Rossi now in the race against Patty Murray in Washington and Boxer within the margin of error, a “GOP Senate majority is truly possible on the current trajectory.”

You betcha! A Democratic polling outfit — Public Policy Polling – shows:

Barbara Boxer, California’s junior senator, leads all three of her potential Republican opponents by single digits a little over five months before the November election. Boxer is ahead of leading Republican candidate Carly Fiorina by the slimmest margin of the three GOP contenders, 45-42.

Tom Campbell does the the worst, trailing Boxer by seven points. Perhaps that is why Obama keeps flying to California to fundraise and cheerlead for Boxer. Even that may not help; the same poll shows that less than a majority of Californians approve of his performance. Yeah, in California.

As Mark Halperin put it, with Dino Rossi now in the race against Patty Murray in Washington and Boxer within the margin of error, a “GOP Senate majority is truly possible on the current trajectory.”

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The Price of Arrogance

Mark Halperin joins the chorus of those who found Obama dismissive and condescending toward the Republicans — to his own detriment. As Halperin observes, Obama is so convinced “he is right and they are wrong” that he cannot disguise his contempt. As a result, I would venture to say, there is not a single Republican who feels inclined, let alone obligated, to help Obama out of his dilemma, namely his inability to pass his signature agenda item.

Now we will put aside for a moment the question of why Obama has such an elevated sense of his own virtue and correctness (after all, he could give no response to Rep. Paul Ryan and could only offer a snotty comeback to John McCain’s critique of the backroom deals). But Obama has had this problem before. Recall the condescending performance in the New Hampshire Democratic primary? It might well have goosed up the sympathy factor for Hillary Clinton. Recall the “cling to guns or religion” comment during the campaign? Again, he can’t quite keep his contempt for his fellow citizens in check.

And this sense of superiority, which in turn has led him repeatedly to discount and ignore legitimate criticism, has proven to be his undoing. He and his equally arrogant advisers feigned ignorance about the tea party protests, wrote off the health-care town-hall attendees, sneered at Fox News, belittled the pollsters, and rolled their eyes at election returns in three states. No amount of adverse information — be it poll numbers or Ryan’s fiscal analysis — permeates the hermetically sealed bubble of hubris. Obama won, he keeps reminding us.

That’s not an attractive personality profile. And it’s a disaster in a president who must build support and alliances to achieve his objectives. He has proven exquisitely inept in governance and, to a large degree, the fault lies with his inability to cultivate a relationship of trust and afffection with voters or enlist wary skeptics. He has hardened and infuriated the opposition. And now, the reservoir of goodwill and trust which he enjoyed at the beginning of his term, is slowly running out.

In the weeks ahead he may wish he had not alienated so many. When, if the vote-counters are right, ObamaCare II comes up short, he will need to find an alternative game plan, a face saver, to prevent humiliation. And then he may wish that he had not been quite so dismissive of the Republicans, who proved themselves in a day-long summit, every bit his intellectual equals and, in a year, much more adept at rallying public opinion. Moreover, come November there will be many, many more of them and Obama will have to figure out how to make peace with those at whom he spent two years sneering.

Mark Halperin joins the chorus of those who found Obama dismissive and condescending toward the Republicans — to his own detriment. As Halperin observes, Obama is so convinced “he is right and they are wrong” that he cannot disguise his contempt. As a result, I would venture to say, there is not a single Republican who feels inclined, let alone obligated, to help Obama out of his dilemma, namely his inability to pass his signature agenda item.

Now we will put aside for a moment the question of why Obama has such an elevated sense of his own virtue and correctness (after all, he could give no response to Rep. Paul Ryan and could only offer a snotty comeback to John McCain’s critique of the backroom deals). But Obama has had this problem before. Recall the condescending performance in the New Hampshire Democratic primary? It might well have goosed up the sympathy factor for Hillary Clinton. Recall the “cling to guns or religion” comment during the campaign? Again, he can’t quite keep his contempt for his fellow citizens in check.

And this sense of superiority, which in turn has led him repeatedly to discount and ignore legitimate criticism, has proven to be his undoing. He and his equally arrogant advisers feigned ignorance about the tea party protests, wrote off the health-care town-hall attendees, sneered at Fox News, belittled the pollsters, and rolled their eyes at election returns in three states. No amount of adverse information — be it poll numbers or Ryan’s fiscal analysis — permeates the hermetically sealed bubble of hubris. Obama won, he keeps reminding us.

That’s not an attractive personality profile. And it’s a disaster in a president who must build support and alliances to achieve his objectives. He has proven exquisitely inept in governance and, to a large degree, the fault lies with his inability to cultivate a relationship of trust and afffection with voters or enlist wary skeptics. He has hardened and infuriated the opposition. And now, the reservoir of goodwill and trust which he enjoyed at the beginning of his term, is slowly running out.

In the weeks ahead he may wish he had not alienated so many. When, if the vote-counters are right, ObamaCare II comes up short, he will need to find an alternative game plan, a face saver, to prevent humiliation. And then he may wish that he had not been quite so dismissive of the Republicans, who proved themselves in a day-long summit, every bit his intellectual equals and, in a year, much more adept at rallying public opinion. Moreover, come November there will be many, many more of them and Obama will have to figure out how to make peace with those at whom he spent two years sneering.

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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.

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The Once-Appealing Barack Obama

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. It has been, by almost any measure, a difficult and disappointing year for him and his party.

Mr. Obama now has the highest disapproval rating in Gallup’s history for a president entering his second year in office. According to a new Washington Post–ABC News poll, among independents, only 49 percent approve — the lowest of any of his recent predecessors at this point in their presidencies. (Obama has lost a stunning 18 points among independents in just a year’s time.) In November, Democrats suffered crushing defeats in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial campaigns — and if Republican Scott Brown prevails in his race against Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s Senate election in Massachusetts, it will rank among the most important non-presidential elections in our lifetime.

It has been a staggering collapse by a president who entered office with enormous support and an unprecedented amount of goodwill. Read More

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. It has been, by almost any measure, a difficult and disappointing year for him and his party.

Mr. Obama now has the highest disapproval rating in Gallup’s history for a president entering his second year in office. According to a new Washington Post–ABC News poll, among independents, only 49 percent approve — the lowest of any of his recent predecessors at this point in their presidencies. (Obama has lost a stunning 18 points among independents in just a year’s time.) In November, Democrats suffered crushing defeats in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial campaigns — and if Republican Scott Brown prevails in his race against Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s Senate election in Massachusetts, it will rank among the most important non-presidential elections in our lifetime.

It has been a staggering collapse by a president who entered office with enormous support and an unprecedented amount of goodwill.

The reasons for this slide include unemployment rates that are much higher than the Obama administration predicted, job growth that never materialized despite the president’s promises, a record-setting spending binge, a massive and hugely unpopular health-care proposal, and an agenda that is far too liberal for most Americans.

But there is another, and I think quite important, explanation that was reinforced to me while reading John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book, Game Change, which is a fascinating (and very well-written) account of the 2008 presidential campaign.

One is reminded once again of how the core of Obama’s popularity was an appeal not to policy or to a governing agenda; instead it was an appeal to thematics and narrative. “Obama cast himself as a figure uncorrupted and unco-opted by evil Washington,” the authors write. He was the candidate who “promised to be a unifier and not a polarizer; someone nondogmatic and uncontaminated by the special-interest cesspool that Washington had become.” Obama’s appeal was romantic and aesthetic, built on the rhetoric of hope and change, on his “freshness and sense of promise.” A cult of personality built up around Obama — not because of what he had achieved but because of what he seemed to embody. (“Maybe one day he’ll do something to merit all this attention,” Michelle Obama dryly told a reporter.)

“We have something very special here,” Obama’s top political aide Axelrod is quoted as saying. “I feel like I’ve been handed a porcelain baby.” Axelrod tells Obama — dubbed by his aides as the “Black Jesus” — that voters were looking for “a president who can bring the country together, who can reach beyond partisanship, and who’ll be tough on special interests.”

That was what we were promised. What we got instead is a president who increased the divisions in our nation, the most partisan and polarizing figure in the history of polling, one who is dogmatic and has been as generous to special interests as any we have seen. The efforts to buy votes in pursuit of the Obama agenda has added sewage to the cesspool.

This would hurt any president under any circumstances; for Barack Obama, whose allure was based almost entirely on his ability to convince the public that he embodied a “new politics,” it has been doubly damaging. It was Hillary Clinton of all people who understood Obama best when she said during the campaign, “We have to make people understand that he’s not real.”

Not real indeed. Obama’s stirring call for Americans to reject the “politics of cynicism” was itself deeply cynical. Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise. After all, Heilemann and Halperin write, Axelrod was “a master of the dark arts of negative campaigning.” The first major profile of him, more than 20 years ago, was titled, “Hatchet Man: The Rise of David Axelrod.”

Obama and Axelrod might have been able to get away with this if Obama’s presidency had been viewed as successful and skilled. But it’s not. And when combined with the growing realization that Obama is not up to the task of governing, that he is pursuing policies that exacerbate our problems and takes us down a wrong and even perilous path, it is poison. The toxicity is such that what was once unthinkable now seems more likely than not: Democrats losing the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for almost half a century. And even if they don’t, 2010 is shaping up to be a perfectly awful year for Democrats. It’s a safe bet that in response they and their allies will lash out in rage, angry at the perceived injustice of it all, furious at the fate that has befallen them. They will blame Obama’s predecessor, Republicans in Congress, the conservative movement, angry white males, Fox News, Sarah Palin’s tweets, and the wrong alignment of the stars. It won’t work.

Having created a myth, they must now live with its unmasking.

Read Less

Obama Blew His First Important Decision

The juicy Game Change book, which landed Harry Reid in political quicksand, is even more damaging to Joe Biden and, by extension, to the president’s own image as chief executive. As Politico recounts:

The relationship between Barack Obama and Joe Biden grew so strained during the 2008 campaign, according to a new book, that the two rarely spoke and aides not only kept Biden off internal conference calls but refused to even tell him they existed. Instead, a separate campaign call was regularly scheduled between the then-Delaware senator and two of Obama’s top campaign aides — “so that they could keep a tight rein on him,” write journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. … The tensions began in September of 2008 [when] word got back to Obama’s campaign headquarters that Biden had told reporters on his campaign plane that he was more qualified than his running mate to be president.

“A chill set in between Chicago and the Biden plane,” Halperin and Heilemann write in the book, to be released Monday. “Joe and Obama barely spoke by phone, rarely campaigned together.”

And when Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was asked about having Biden dial into the nightly campaign conference call, he responded: “Nah.” Instead, Biden had his own call with Plouffe and senior campaign adviser David Axelrod.

Obama himself was growing increasingly frustrated with his running mate after Biden let loose with a string of gaffes, including a statement that paying higher taxes amounted to patriotism and criticism of one of the campaign’s own ads poking fun at John McCain.

But when Biden, at an October fund-raiser in Seattle, famously predicted that Obama would be tested with an international crisis, the then-Illinois senator had had enough.

“How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?” he demanded of his advisers on a conference call, a moment at which most people on the call said the candidate was as angry as they had ever heard him.

Well, we knew Joe Biden was a loudmouthed buffoon. Indeed, most people knew that before he was selected as Obama’s VP. His gaffes were well known, his penchant for cringe-inducing boasts was no secret, and he was, after all, bounced from one presidential campaign for appropriating Neil Kinnock’s life account as his own. But here’s the thing: Obama selected him anyway. So what is the real message here — that Biden was a goofball, or that Obama showed atrocious judgment in making the most important personnel call, one that cannot be reversed until 2012?

If Obama was furious at his VP, he should perhaps have thought back to the vetting process. Surely, Eric Holder and Caroline Kennedy didn’t let him down by failing to take their candidate through Biden’s shortcomings chapter and verse, right? Obama nevertheless made the decision to hire someone for whom he had contempt. Nice work.

Moreover, in office Biden has not only lived up to his reputation for gaffes; his judgment, most especially on Afghanistan, has been (as it has been for 30 years) faulty. To Obama’s credit, Biden’s advice was rejected on the surge, although one suspects the process would have been less excruciating and prolonged had it not been for Biden’s efforts to override the advice of all our military commanders.

Obama hasn’t distinguished himself as an executive. His Afghanistan policy-making process was tortured, and he has outsourced much of that policy making to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid — who proceeded to junk up the stimulus and come up with the worst-of-all-worlds health-care bill. He flunked the 3 a.m. telephone-call test on the Christmas Day bombing. But it’s in his personnel selection — from the hapless and ethically challenged Tim Geithner to the decidedly unwise Sonia Sotomayor to the goofy James Jones — where he has demonstrated his utter lack of executive competence. And the prime example is the man who sits the proverbial one heartbeat away from the presidency.

The juicy Game Change book, which landed Harry Reid in political quicksand, is even more damaging to Joe Biden and, by extension, to the president’s own image as chief executive. As Politico recounts:

The relationship between Barack Obama and Joe Biden grew so strained during the 2008 campaign, according to a new book, that the two rarely spoke and aides not only kept Biden off internal conference calls but refused to even tell him they existed. Instead, a separate campaign call was regularly scheduled between the then-Delaware senator and two of Obama’s top campaign aides — “so that they could keep a tight rein on him,” write journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. … The tensions began in September of 2008 [when] word got back to Obama’s campaign headquarters that Biden had told reporters on his campaign plane that he was more qualified than his running mate to be president.

“A chill set in between Chicago and the Biden plane,” Halperin and Heilemann write in the book, to be released Monday. “Joe and Obama barely spoke by phone, rarely campaigned together.”

And when Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was asked about having Biden dial into the nightly campaign conference call, he responded: “Nah.” Instead, Biden had his own call with Plouffe and senior campaign adviser David Axelrod.

Obama himself was growing increasingly frustrated with his running mate after Biden let loose with a string of gaffes, including a statement that paying higher taxes amounted to patriotism and criticism of one of the campaign’s own ads poking fun at John McCain.

But when Biden, at an October fund-raiser in Seattle, famously predicted that Obama would be tested with an international crisis, the then-Illinois senator had had enough.

“How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?” he demanded of his advisers on a conference call, a moment at which most people on the call said the candidate was as angry as they had ever heard him.

Well, we knew Joe Biden was a loudmouthed buffoon. Indeed, most people knew that before he was selected as Obama’s VP. His gaffes were well known, his penchant for cringe-inducing boasts was no secret, and he was, after all, bounced from one presidential campaign for appropriating Neil Kinnock’s life account as his own. But here’s the thing: Obama selected him anyway. So what is the real message here — that Biden was a goofball, or that Obama showed atrocious judgment in making the most important personnel call, one that cannot be reversed until 2012?

If Obama was furious at his VP, he should perhaps have thought back to the vetting process. Surely, Eric Holder and Caroline Kennedy didn’t let him down by failing to take their candidate through Biden’s shortcomings chapter and verse, right? Obama nevertheless made the decision to hire someone for whom he had contempt. Nice work.

Moreover, in office Biden has not only lived up to his reputation for gaffes; his judgment, most especially on Afghanistan, has been (as it has been for 30 years) faulty. To Obama’s credit, Biden’s advice was rejected on the surge, although one suspects the process would have been less excruciating and prolonged had it not been for Biden’s efforts to override the advice of all our military commanders.

Obama hasn’t distinguished himself as an executive. His Afghanistan policy-making process was tortured, and he has outsourced much of that policy making to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid — who proceeded to junk up the stimulus and come up with the worst-of-all-worlds health-care bill. He flunked the 3 a.m. telephone-call test on the Christmas Day bombing. But it’s in his personnel selection — from the hapless and ethically challenged Tim Geithner to the decidedly unwise Sonia Sotomayor to the goofy James Jones — where he has demonstrated his utter lack of executive competence. And the prime example is the man who sits the proverbial one heartbeat away from the presidency.

Read Less




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