Commentary Magazine


The New Republic’s Keith Olbermann

In a story in the Washington Examiner, Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, said Robert Gibbs’ remarks attacking the “professional left” shows how “unprepared” many in the Obama administration were for the rigors of the White House. “A lot of things had come too easy for them — a substantial election victory, and an almost messianic moment with the inauguration,” Hess said. “Governing is hard.”

The governing-is-hard theme is something some of us warned about a long time ago. And charting some of Obama’s early missteps caused commentators on the left, such as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, enormous irritation. In May 2009 he wrote:

In anticipation of his prophesy coming true, [Wehner’s] blogging for Commentary has become a gleeful chronicle of Obama’s imagined descent into dysfunction and popular repudiation.

Well, now. The “imagined descent” into popular repudiation (and dysfunction, for that matter) is no longer imagined, is it?

Popular repudiation is precisely what Obama and Democrats are experiencing on a scale that is extremely rare — one the may prove to be unprecedented — for a president who has been in office for less than two years.

William Galston, who served in the Clinton administration, has warned his party that it might not only lose the House; its majority in the Senate is endangered, too. And the polarization some of us highlighted early on in Obama’s presidency was in fact on the mark. Chait dismissed the observation at the time, but then came (for Chait) a rather unfortunate Gallup survey released in January 2010, which reported that Barack Obama was the most polarizing first-year president in recorded history.

Now we should keep in mind that Chait is the same individual who, in December 2008, assured his readers that “undiluted liberalism” in the area of health care was hugely popular and that the path to political dominance for Obama and Democrats; and who, in February 2007, wrote that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” our modern-day Metternich insisted. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”

Such detached-from-reality insights continue apace. Earlier this year, for example, Chait wrote:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

Of course; health-care reform has nothing to do with Obama’s plight or that of the Democratic Party. So sayeth The Great Chait.

Never mind that Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, analyzes the empirical data and declares that “the health overhaul remains a political loser in most of the country.” Or that Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes that “recent polling shows that the [health care] bill has been a disaster for the party. … There may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration’s health care reform bill.” Or that Charlie Cook, who specializes in election forecasts and political trends, declared earlier this year that from a political perspective, pushing health care was a “colossal miscalculation.” Yet Chait – who doesn’t specialize in election forecasts or political trends – knows better.

And what should we make of the fact that by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters in Missouri voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law? Easy. “Missouri is not a ‘bellwether’ state right now,” Chait cheerfully informs us. Missouri, you see, has suddenly become Utah. And the individual mandate never was popular, don’t you know?

Chait has been reduced to arguing (ad nauseam) that Obama’s unpopularity has virtually nothing to do with Obama’s policies or his liberal ideology; it has to do with the very bad economy and those darn “structural factors.” Barack Obama is a fantastic president, you see; it’s just too bad the conditions in the country are miserable.

Jonathan has become something of an amusing read. It is not simply watching him try to twist reality to fit his ideological presuppositions, which is amusing enough; it is the whole packaged deal – the adolescent rage, exemplified in his “I hate Bush” rant, the playground taunts, the pretense of governing and policy expertise.

And there is the matter of Chait’s slightly peculiar personal obsessions. For example, he admits that one of his “guilty pleasures” is a “morbid fascination” with me and that one of his “shameful hobbies” is watching the “almost sensual pleasure” taken by me at the coming November elections – with the latter written under the headline “Wehner Throbs with Anticipation.” Now this doesn’t particularly bother me, but perhaps it should bother Mrs. Chait.

The New Republic was once the professional home to some of the nation’s preeminent intellectuals, public figures, and journalists. Today it provides a perch to Jonathan Chait, TNR’s version of Keith Olbermann

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