Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Old excuses for Obama's troubles

The GOP, the Republican Party, is being run by extremists, by Tea Party fanatics. They're unwilling to compromise on anything and would rather see the entire nation go down in flames then give an inch on  policy.

Do I have that right? It's the current one-size-fits-all mantra for Democrats near and far, from the halls of Congress to the White House to pretty much everywhere. And the mainstream media is happily repeating the chorus. The mantra is now over two years old, as well. Throw in the racism and the misogyny and the picture is complete. But as Jonah Goldberg pointed out the other day, this stuff is old hat. It really is. Liberal Democrats have been using the same political playbook for decades and this tactic is on page three, right after scaring the elderly with "Republicans want to take away your Medicare and Social Security," and inflaming the poor with "Republicans only care about rich people." Liberal Democrats and journalists are pining for the reasonableness of Reaganite Republicans now, but what were they saying in the days of Reagan? From Goldberg's piece:
The Republican Party got into its time machine and took a giant leap back into the ’50s. The party left moderation and tolerance of dissent behind.
That could have come from pretty much any Dem leader or mainstream liberal journalist in the past couple of years. But it didn't. It came from Judy Mann of the Washington Post, writing in 1980.

Now, as Obama's reelection suddenly appear to be in doubt--when most thought it was pretty much a done deal only four or five months ago--we are hearing a different liberal mantra: the Presidency is too hard to hold these days for two terms; politics have become too divisive; the media has become too complicated. Chris Cillizza makes the case at WaPo, arguing that the Bully Pulpit has weakened considerably:
The bully pulpit may still exist, but it’s far less bully than it once was.  
That’s especially true not only because the fracturing of the media makes it hard to push a clear message but also because roughly half of the American public doesn’t want to hear the message (whatever it is) because it is of the other party.
And right on cue, MSNBC picks up the story from the "great" Chris Cillizza and has a roundtable on whether or not a two term President is still possible:

Alex Wagner of MSNBC and Melinda Henneberger of WaPo even argue that Obama is getting disrespected like no other President in history: "His presidency has been more victim to I think a lack of respect than any other presidency" (Wagner), and "Republicans show no respect for the office in a way that is unprecedented" (Henneberger). The other members of the discussion spin it back to the evolution of the "new media," the idea--offered by Cillizza--that there are simply too many sources now available, thus preventing the President from having any sort of control over his or her message.

It's an interesting argument. Yet, the "new media" was in full force in 2004. Bush still managed to win a second term. And in the discussion, Jim Vandehei of Politico suggests that the Obama Administration was slow to recognize the changing media landscape:
...It's really hard to figure out how you take advantage or how do you defend yourself in an environment where the message comes from a thousand different places. This White House was slow to get that I think in the beginning. Certainly the first three years, they thought the New York Times was the only thing that matters and it turns out that it only matters for one small slice of the electorate when everyone else is going to other places.
Sorry, but that's just knee-slapping silly on Vandehei's part. Obama was hailed as the new media and social media king when he ran for the Presidency in 2008 and after, in fact. Now, it's actually being argued by journalists that the Obama Administration has been slow to get the importance of alternate media sources. Really? And the other members of the panel--largely Obama water-carriers--are quick to agree with Vandehei, given an opportunity to excuse the Administration's performance thus far in the campaign.

Still, the sense of the discussion is that a two-term Presidency has suddenly become a tall order, when--in the past--it was far easier to attain. Why? Because there was less divisiveness to contend with in Congress, less worry about special interest monies, fewer new methodologies to come to terms with. Bush (the second one), Clinton, Reagan, they had it a lot easier according to this thinking. This...new thinking?

Nope. As James Taranto at the WSJ points out, this same argument--that a two-term Presidency has become impossible--has been made by the mainstream media before, in service to a Democratic President struggling with a reelection bid. The President in question? Jimmy Carter.

New York Times political columnist Tom Wicker, from 1980:
In the same years when presidential politics changed so greatly, governing did, too. It got harder...The rise of single-interest politics and independent legislators has made it more difficult to put together a governing coalition; sophisticated new lobbying techniques wielded on behalf of virtually every interest group further complicate the task.
Walter Shapiro at the Washington Post, also from 1980:
Voters have lowered their expectations of what any president can accomplish; they have accepted the notion that this country may never again have heroic, larger-than-life leadership in the White House...Some voters have entirely discarded textbook notions about presidential greatness and believe that Carter is doing as good a job as anyone could in facing new and difficult problems and in coping with an independent and restive Congress.
Taranto has additional examples; the above two are just a taste. But the point is made, I think: it's the same old song with a few new lines. Pity poor President Obama. The task before him--overcoming the politics of the moment and the various interests opposing him--is Herculean in its nature. No mere mortal could stand a  chance...which leads to yet another mantra: "but even with all of this, Obama is still doing remarkably well."

The penultimate point remains: none of Obama's reelection difficulties are his fault, are a consequence of his FAILED policies. Someone else or something else is always to blame. And that's the core of it, right there: the failure is ultimately one of leadership. Obama, despite the potential, is a failed leader. Because he is just unable to admit mistakes and take responsibility for them. Blame, blame, blame, that's all he and his team know. And when he falls, this will be seen as his undoing.

Cheers, all.


  1. The bigger question is why the pundits don't understant that they in a way are undermining their own candidate. After all, if a guy can't manage because it is too tough or whatever, why should voters give him another chance. They know that the guy currently in office can't hack it. Why not give the other guy a chance then? :-)

  2. Well, some of the pundits are kind of hedging their bets now. But the thing is, Obama--in their minds--represented the Best of the Best, an Ivy League-educated minority who puts social justice ahead of all else. And to admit that the best of the best was sorely lacking is a tough pill to swallow.