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.