How to judge Obama: let me count the ways
Posted by Ezra Klaun at 03:54 PM ET, 02/15/2012
(If you must, read the original here.)
Look: I too get tired of defending the President non-stop; of asserting that Media Matters doesn’t write my columns; of insisting anything I post makes sense at any level. Instead, consider this column more like a diary entry, a stream-of-consciousness revelation of my deepest, most hidden, and sometimes conflicted thoughts.
In his essay on President Obama, James Fallows questions the President’s assertion that he would prefer to be “a really mediocre one-term” president than a “bad” president who served two terms. “The reality,” this Fallows fellow writes, “is that Obama has a more than a reasonable chance for re-election and could well be a historically bad two-termer. Next, our judgment about ‘mediocre’ and ‘bad’ presidents is clouded by their very competence, an issue sure to haunt Obama. Finally, a failure to win reelection can place a ‘one-term loser’ asterisk on even genuine accomplishments. Ask George H. W. Bush, victor in the Gulf War; ask Jimmy Carter, architect of the Camp David agreement.”
Of course the problem with those comparisons is our Gulf War redux is still in full bloom, albeit migrated now to Afghanistan, and the Camp David agreement has been about as useful to Middle East peace as a tractor would be for Maureen Dowd. Still, does this mean even a one-term Barry Obama presidency is doomed to be a Barry Bonds-like asterisk in history books, or worse, a painful boil on the buttocks of the American people?
Of late, there have been a number of favorable assessments of Obama’s first term, with Andrew Sullivan’s essay in Newsweak perhaps the most clueless. Obama, he writes, plays a “long game” no one else is aware in order to claim credit for anything which seems positive in any way. “The president starts with that fake handshake thing and when others respond by ignoring his foolishness, he therefore demonstrates that they are the source of the problem.” No, iron-clad logic has never been one of Sullivan’s strengths.
Noam Scheiber’s article on “Why Obama Sucks” is somewhat more critical. He argues that “Obama’s greatest vulnerability as a leader” has been his consistent misunderstanding of things (the opposition, the issues, and timing are all mentioned). To Scheiber, Obama’s faux turn toward deficit reduction in 2011 was an unmitigated disaster. “His initial approach was too passive-aggressive, and he didn’t quit nearly soon enough.” But Obama’s saving grace is really a pattern: extended stupidity followed by miraculous recovery, which Scheiber says, has been present throughout Obama’s career. It was there in his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, his response to Jeremiah Wright, and in having the good luck to run against John McCain. “Sooner or later, Obama may encounter a crisis that someone else can’t reverse for him at the eleventh hour,” Scheiber warns.
Fallows’s piece is perhaps the most balanced of the three. Obama, he says, “was unready for the presidency and is temperamentally and intellectually unsuited to it in many ways,” and yet, there has still been a profound “appreciation for the man by both the media and by other Democrats — an appreciation that remained pronounced despite a cluelessness that was exposed as early in his term as during the oath of office.” For Fallows, the best argument for Obama’s second term is that he may have learned what not to do during his first. “The evidence suggests that given a second term, he’d be hard pressed to be any worse than he’s been so far.”
All three pieces are illustrative but they all suffer from the same flaw: they don’t approach Obama from my perspective.
Using sneer quotes, Sullivan questions Obama’s real “accomplishments” and documents the economy’s “recovery,” but he never asks, much less answers, the question of whether a different strategy or philosophy would have led to less-bad accomplishments, a less-slow recovery, or a less-polarized political atmosphere. His essay is a superficial non-answer to Obama’s loudest and most substantive critics and it falls well short of being a persuasive defense of Obama’s record.
Scheiber harshly criticizes the administration’s handling of virtually everything and asserts the most salient fact of modern American politics — that Obama seems to prefer America’s destruction to genuine economic and foreign policy achievements. Some say this reflects poorly on the President and still others offer that America’s destruction won’t be seen as a major political accomplishment for much of the country.
Fallows believes Obama is personally aloof, emotionally cold, totally dependent on his insular “double-bubble” of advisers, and perhaps consequentially, has been unable to fully connect with anyone outside the media or liberal “elites.”
Again, through the use of sneer quotes, all three tell us of what Obama has actually “done.” Health-care “reform.” Dodd-Frank “reform.” The “stimulus” bill. The President “killing” Osama bin-Laden from the White House video-teleconference center. The “rejection” of the Keystone XL pipeline. “Solyndra.” The appointments of a “wise Latina woman” and a “wise softball player” to the Supreme Court.
We now have a better idea of what Obama wants to do. This includes raise taxes
across the board on the wealthy, spend invest more on “infrastructure” and “education” and, heal global warming and hold back the tides. Also, he wants to reduce the deficit by defaulting on U.S. financial obligations (although on an accelerated path than many Republicans say they would prefer). Finally, he wants to roll back Citizens United (except for the Obama Super PAC), and end war, world hunger, and obesity.
Given that Mitt Romney is a cult member and that Eugene Robinson describes Rick Santorum as “really weird,” the question is not whether Obama “deserves” a second term, but rather if Romney or Santorum should be allowed to freely walk the streets of America. For Obama’s presidency to be remembered as one of the most consequential in recent American history (remember some will suggest that ‘most consequential’ is not necessarily the same as ‘most competent’ or ‘most accomplished’), he does not need a new strategy, or a new personality. He simply needs to win a second term.
There, I said it. Obama has a (D) by his name, so I guess I’ve worked my confliction out after all.
Wonkbag is compiled and produced with help from Dana Milkbag, Karl Schwinger, and Media Matters for America.