Sixteen Months Later, Is Obama Finally Getting His Media Honeymoon?

By Al Giordano

No US president in my lifetime entered office so rudely hazed as Barack Obama. It’s been sixteen months of this: A bunch of privileged white folk with college degrees – you know, the ones who dominate the press and pundit corps – suddenly discovered a fun new board game. Let’s call it what it is: “The black guy can't possibly know how to govern so we will tell him what to do!”

This rebirth of know-it-all-ism took on distinct languages on the right and in some corners of the left, but it came from the same instinct: a profound unease that The President didn’t look or sound white, um, like previous commanders-in-chief.

The racist impulses of the tea partiers and others of the far right came unglued in full public view last week when Republican US Senate nominee Rand Paul in Kentucky – at the very moment he became the political face of the tea party “movement” by winning his party primary and by virtue of the nepotism of being “libertarian” Saint Ron Paul’s spawn - actually called for allowing private businesses to discriminate against Americans based on their skin color. Then he backpedaled and claimed not to mean it all the dozens of times he had said it over so many years.

That tendency has also manifested in some corners of the left, but it played out differently because unlike those on the right, its adherents felt a sense of entitlement to tell Obama what to do. And when Obama ignored the self-appointed counselors of left and right, some on the left took it personally. That’s when it really got vicious. “What? How dare he not follow MY advice!” At that point a gaggle of them lost their heads altogether, because hell hath no fury like a know-it-all blogger scorned, especially one who thinks everything is about him or her.

Yet for sixteen months, denied the media honeymoon that every other president always had in his first year in office,The President has been one hundred percent unflappable. He has not lost his cool or blown his temper in public, not even once. Instead, Obama set to work cueing up his legislative priorities and shepherding them, one at a time, through a difficult Congress, especially hard in the Senate where 40 Republicans plus any one or two conservative Democrats could, as a minority, block the 100-member chamber from voting on any proposed law. And on every single law he proposed or backed, he won passage. Let me repeat that: Every single one. In baseball terms, Obama has batted 1.000. He hasn’t struck out once. Not yet. In a funny way, that infuriates his naysayers even more.

Whether one agrees with Obama’s positions or not, one has to give credit that is due: He walks to his own drumbeat and step by step has gotten big things accomplished.

After all, even in frat house hazing rituals, if the guy being hazed endures it with grace, he has to be invited into the fraternity. In that sense some of the current serial hazers have shown less class than frat boys.

Suddenly – and I suppose the Rand Paul implosion pinpricked some white liberal consciences to contribute to their sudden turnaround, because it made it clear just how much of the American dysfunction is about race – some journalism and opinion column insiders have begun to consider the cumulative whole of President Obama’s first sixteen months in office and do some very simple math.

David Leonhardt’s Friday New York Times piece – “A Progressive Agenda to Remake Washington” - connected the dots:

With the Senate’s passage of financial regulation, Congress and the White House have completed 16 months of activity that rival any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition. Like the Reagan Revolution or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the new progressive period has the makings of a generational shift in how Washington operates.

First came a stimulus bill that, while aimed mainly at ending a deep recession, also set out to remake the nation’s educational system and vastly expand scientific research. Then President Obama signed a health care bill that was the biggest expansion of the safety net in 40 years. And now Congress is in the final stages of a bill that would tighten Wall Street’s rules and probably shrink its profit margins.

If there is a theme to all this, it has been to try to lift economic growth while also reducing income inequality...

This morning, columnist and economist Paul Krugman – one of the earliest “Obama must do as I say” lecturers – told the nation what New Yorker media insiders, due to their proximity to Wall Street sources, have discovered. That big business is hysterical over the President now because, contrary to the anti-Obama talking points that have blabbered on for sixteen months, the President’s administration and policies have had the effect of policing corporate America for the first time in decades. The party of the elites begun under Reagan and continued through two Bushes and a Clinton, is palpably over. Krugman writes:

So here’s how it is: They’re as mad as hell, and they’re not going to take this anymore. Am I talking about the Tea Partiers? No, I’m talking about the corporations.

Much reporting on opposition to the Obama administration portrays it as a sort of populist uprising. Yet the antics of the socialism-and-death-panels crowd are only part of the story of anti-Obamaism, and arguably the less important part. If you really want to know what’s going on, watch the corporations.

How can you do that? Follow the money — donations by corporate political action committees…

...63 percent of spending by banks’ corporate PACs has gone to Republicans, up from 53 percent last year. Securities and investment firms, traditionally Democratic-leaning, are now giving more money to Republicans. And oil and gas companies, always Republican-leaning, have gone all out, bestowing 76 percent of their largess on the G.O.P.

Corporate America, however, really, truly hates the current administration. Wall Street, for example, is in “a state of bitter, seething, hysterical fury” toward the president, writes John Heilemann of New York magazine.

Heilemann’s essay “Obama is from Mars, Wall Street is from Venus,” likewise was the result of his proximity, as a New Yorker, to the big money hornet’s nest. He basically says as much:

One night not long ago, over dinner with ten executives in the finance industry, I heard the president described as “hostile to business,” “anti-wealth,” and “anti-capitalism”; as a “redistributionist,” a “vilifier,” and a “thug.”

So, woo hoo!, right? It turns out that all along the President has been putting the screws on Wall Street even while he’s been polite in tone to it. (That’s what we Italian-Americans have long called “smiling while sticking the knife in.”)

All this, of course, has Obama’s real base breathing a big exhale of relief, like the 347 Daily Kos bloggers who recommended a diary today extolling this sudden shift in the Conventional Wisdom acknowledging that, hey, maybe the black guy is even better at governing than all those white guys who preceded him!

But if you want an idea of how angry this change in the political winds is making the dwindling “Obama must do as I say” grouposcule, and you have the stomach for tantrum overdrive, scroll some of the earliest comments on that highly recommended diary: the same hyena pack of a dozen or two poutrage addicts that have led the Obama Hazing Society for sixteen months are besides themselves now. They can’t stand the new recognition that Obama has angered Wall Street and that his presidency has already broken historic barriers for defeating special interests and getting progressive change done.

One would think that true liberals and progressives, especially those who were skeptical at first, would be truly happy, and truth is that most are. So what’s wrong with the Eeyores? Well, they’ve been proved wrong (again) and that always gives them road rage. And some are now personally embarrassed and are beginning to catch some overdue blowback for their tantrumism.

One of them is Open Left’s front-pager Paul Rosenberg, who for sixteen months has sprung a toxic leak that, if you could take a photo of it, would look a lot like that BP oil rig in the Gulf.

Nine days ago, Rosenberg had the trademark poor timing of making this looney tunes declaration a week before the rest of the media and blogger world came to the realization that in Obama, something truly historic is going on:

" one wants to face up to just how truly terrible a president Barack Obama is turning out to be--we're talking potential Herbert Hoover territory, folks."

Excuse me while I reply: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Rosenberg really stepped in his own bullshit, again. That blog post was penned with mid-May’s poutrage-of-the-week, when some like Rosenberg were shopping their latest proposed anti-Obama crusade. Then it was against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan (that particular arson attempt snuffed out pretty quickly, as Kagan now coasts to Senate approval and Poutrage Inc. has gone looking for new reasons to incite fear and loathing of all things Obama). But now, suddenly, Rosenberg – much like Rand Paul - is being taken to task for the written record of his bizarro world claims. What goes around comes around, and bloggers who live by spitting up their own bile in public should expect to get cookies tossed upon them now and then, too. Live by the critique, die by the critique, and no critic has the right to whine when criticized.

Jamelle Bouie at Think Progress serves up the just desserts:

I need help understanding how OpenLeft’s Paul Rosenberg can credibly argue that Barack Obama has manically embraced “discredited conservative ideas” and “helped enormously in extended the hegemonic continuity of [the] Nixon-Reagan Eara. [Emphasis his]” More specifically, I need help understanding this strange impulse among liberals of Rosenberg’s ilk to understate or dismiss most of the work Congress and President Obama have done over the past sixteen months, especially when — as David Leonhardt noted in yesterday’s New York Times — it’s been a burst of activity that “rivals any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition.”

Right now, liberals (again, of Rosenberg’s ilk) ought to spend less time lamenting Obama’s aversion to ideological orthodoxy and more time working to defend and improve progressive governance

That led to an indignant response this morning from Open Left owner Chris Bowers who claims that Bouie had attacked everyone at Open Left. My gawd. Can they be that self important? Do they always think it is about them even if it is just about one of them? To wit:

Excuse me?  The Open Left community ("Rosenberg's ilk") has collectively engaged in a significant amount of direct action attempting to improve progressive governance over the past sixteen months…

Leveling such a charge against Open Left requires lumping us into some pre-set stereotype of do-nothing, left-wing whiners that belies an almost total lack of familiarity with Open Left.

But Bouie didn’t say anything about “the Open Left community.” He wrote about Rosenberg and his “ilk” which, in proper English, would describe only those who agree with him.

If Bowers shares Rosenberg’s view that “Barack Obama is turning out to be… a terrible president… in Herbert Hoover territory, folks,” well then, yes, that would define him as “ilk.” But since Bowers and some other Open Left front pagers have refrained from making such foolish expressions (Bowers, not too long ago, in March, was praised from this corner for coming to public grips with very much the opposite view when he wrote “Obama developed new messaging that was more convincing than the likes used by myself… or anyone else on the left who was making contrary arguments” – does he likewise think I was praising Rosenberg and “the Open Left community” when I said something nice about him?) no reasonable person thinks that Bouie was criticizing everybody on the blog where Rosenberg is provided his own public port-a-potty with glass walls.

But all of that is a sideshow; a car wreck that I admit I slow down and stretch my neck out the window to see the gore of it.

What has really just happened is conventional media wisdom has begun to shift, and it looks to me like President Obama is about to get that honeymoon from the media that all the white previous presidents got in their first year in office, only a year and some months late.

And that works out real well, too, since it is this year when midterm Congressional elections will be held in the United States. Sometimes it makes sense to save the honeymoon for the second anniversary.

It won’t last – no media honeymoon does – but it might well endure through November, which would be another triumph in political timing with positive, real world, consequences.

Even if I didn’t like and admire this President, I would still be impressed by his temperament, and by the way he plays the political game. It is worthy of study, and I've learned lots of new tricks just by watching him in action, and taking notes.



This week in poutrage

"Obama's not doing enough to stop the oil spill." When it comes from the Jindals and the Palins, I smile. When it comes from pwogwessives, I don't.

I hope the honeymoon with the press, such as it is, lasts. Some in the press corps have been pushing the Obama-hates-the-media meme hard. Exhibit A:

I hope so...

That would be nice, wouldn't? Yet, just today, I've heard and read many down in Louisiana in hysterics over the response to the oil spill(most loudly, of course, Republican Senator David Vitter), criticizing it as "inadequate". And that's when I pressed the TV/Video button on the remote and started gaming.

In any case, I'm not certain what else could possibly be done. Apparently, the super-powers many on the right and left ascribe to the office of the president is the ability to instantly plug leaking oil wells. The only other thing they could possibly do is to seize control of the operation from BP, and, of course, the people advocating it are very often members of the party that claims government can't do anything right. Go figure...

This is FIYAH!

Speak truth to power Al!

Two Theories

Well done, Al. My hat's off to you once again.


I have a theory for why some on the left continue to trash Obama. Actually, two.

1. Some of the big bloggers and columnists gained a lot of attention, respect, and influence with their opposition to the Bush administration over the past decade. Now, with a real President and improving conditions, they're worried about their influence waning. They can't just cover what Bush and Cheney do these days (When Cheney isn't opening his mouth), so they need to find something, ANYTHING, to use against the President, even if it's taken well out of context.

2. I think a lot of people, especially the bloggers and those who write the kneejerk DailyKos comments, became so used to the way Bush and Cheney ran the Executive Branch, regardless of how overreaching and illegal it may have been (And never mind that it eventually did them in and rendered them impotent and paralyzed from '06 to '08), they they forgot what really the duties and limits of the Presidency are, and they expect Obama to be all "I'm gonna go in there and kick ass!" the way Bush was. Dare I say it, I think we were envious of Bush at one point.


Massive doses of Chicken Little vaccine are needed over this issue. Been administering shots as fast as I can and this is a great help in that campaign.

This is a problem for my generation

Folks in my generation (I'm 22) really only "lived" through Bush; they by and large weren't paying attention to Clinton, much less perceiving the consequences of his actions.

So there's a tendency among white folks (I'm just guessing, here) that this treatment of Democratic presidents is /normal/. But we can only compare it with the criticism of Bush, really. So even the [insert lefty word-of-choice here] has/have a tendency to forget about the very real racial aspect re: criticism of Obama, PARTICULARLY when it comes from the [insert lefty word-of-choice here, but more disparaging than the first]. It's a blind spot.

(Possible pairs, given the political mood: Liberal/Librul, Progressive/Liberal, Leftist/Democrat, etc, etc, ad nauseum)

Not the time

With respect, Al- and I have a tremendous amount of respect for you, and at times the President- this doesn't seem the time to be marvelling over Obama's quiet effectiveness. Something else is called for when a part of the country is facing a catastrophic-to apocolyptic-level enviromental disaster. Why is the government still going by BP's discredited numbers? Why can't the EPA actually order BP to stop dumping additional toxins in the Gulf? Why can't barrier islands be constructed, as the Dutch have suggested, to protect the (probably already doomed) marshes? (The Corp of Engineers says an "enviromental review' has to be done. If that doesn't play into the conservative caractiture of the Federal government, I don't know what does.) What in the name of God is the plan to manage the effects of a summer-long mile-deep petroleum volcano?

Its incredible to me that Obama's team is apparently oblivious to the fact that Americans (Louisianans in particular) simply don't trust the government anymore. They haven't in 40 years. Why isn't Obama on primetime television? He's being outflanked by fucking Bobby Jindal, for God's sake. If we're legally and practically dependent for now on BP's actions, come out and tell us, we're adults, and we'll accept it.  Anything is better than this silence, and hiding behind the very corporation responsible for it all.

And finally: let's not hear another word, for now, about the wonderful future of offshore drilling. Its not necessary to spell out so clearly and repeatedly to voters that you have some symbolic share in this horror.



@ Cassandra

Cassandra - I think your comment fails on a number of levels. First, I didn't write anything about the BP situation except as metaphor for Paul Rosenberg's toxic stream of scribbled sludge. Second, an argument that basically says "we can't talk about anything else except for what *I* care most about" is ludicrous. And that is what you've done in that comment.

I oppose offshore drilling. I've been on record on that for a long time. But that doesn't mean it is the only thing I care about, or that because there is a current catastrophe talk about everything else must stop.

You offer no suggestions for what could be done about the current leak other than to grab the microphone from Bobby Jindal and make more noise. That won't stop a single drop of oil from leaking. Don't pretend it would. This is clearly a very serious eco-crisis and if there were a magic bullet to stop it I haven't seen it proposed. It is a consequence of an entire civilization's addiction to petroleum. That began long before Obama was president and through the stimulus bill and other initiatives in sixteen months this administration has done more to address that bigger problem than any one since Jimmy Carter's. So cluck away if you like, but the sky didn't begin to fall with this leak. If it is falling at all it began decades ago.

I wonder how they'll play the oil spill

Maybe the media is going with the "if you can't beat em, join em" strategy here.  Their nonsense all year hasn't done much, so they're changing strategies.

However, they're doing their best with the oil spill to blame the administration, and since Obama generally doesn't go for the cheap if effective shots and populist stances (say by blasting BP every day on TV), the media thinks they'll get away with blaming it on him.  From a purely environmental and social standpoint, the spill is a catastrophe and I have my doubts whether it'll be capped in anything less than another month or two.  I hope the administration is planning for BP's epic failure.

Loved the argument

Though I have to say, it's a little unfair to go after someone like Rosenberg. I mean it's like a fight between a lion and baby housecat, I wonder who's going to come out of it alive!

Politics and more

"Second, an argument that

"Second, an argument that basically says 'we can't talk about anything else except for what *I* care most about' is ludicrous."


Indeed it is. I'm very emotional about it now, and I barged in to an unrelated post to speak my mind... apologies for that.


My understanding of the situation is that we're basically helpless at the moment, and largely dependent upon BP's equipment for any possible end to this. If that's the reality, fine. But tell us what the reality is, and tell us the plan. In times of national disaster, I believe that's an important part of the job.

A link

I see a link between the Heilemann article and what's going on in the Gulf now. One of the things we learn from the Heilemann piece is that when there's a crisis (economic or environmental), what Obama does is work on problem-solving. He seems to figure that its his job to solve problems and not hand-hold the American people through the process. Then after the crisis is over, we learn all he did to solve the problem...if we take the time to listen, read, and learn. I suspect that in a few months, we'll be reading a Heilemann-like article about all Obama is doing as we speak to address the oil spill in the Gulf. This could be seen as a political failure of Obama. But in the scheme of things, I'd prefer someone like him who digs into solutions.

The gist with BP seems like

The gist with BP seems like this is just an unprecendented situation. So people are freaking and want something done NOW, and that's understandable. Sadly, reality is a bit more complex.


I've been hoping for some fact-based diaries on the DKos in regards to the spill, but it's mostly hysteria and harping about Obama's PR problem. Both of which are counterproductive.

i.e.d.'s and ire for Thee


Here, if I may, is the epic quandary of a Presidency, a Presidency under Siege since the very beginning of its term of Office. 

Oil can brake a progressive Presidency. Especially when they share a common hue. BP spills oil liberally. It can afford to do so, for it is the technological alpha and omega of oil exploration, exploitation and inventory management. Along with its siblings, they macro-manage prices and addiction. Comes Armageddon in the Gulf, there can only be one side to the Story: BP's version. History has rendered Government impotent in an oil crisis. It simply doesn't have the resources, the necessary reflexes to intervene, let alone promptly. And all Hell breaks loose, with Big Oil at the Helm.

The Commander in chief thereby morphs into the Grandstander in tow. Absence of control, loss of Narrative, a Presidency succomb to the Cartel, Big Business goes populist, the People turns its back on the Ignorant. Not.

An Obama Presidency stands aside for a while. It has to let BP go through the entire motion of owning the crises; legally and psychologically. If the Government intervenes too soon, BP can claim interference in Court; the perfect escape clause. BP must bear the full financial burden of the Catastrophe. Of course, if the President intervenes too late, the noise will deafen the progressive voice of the American People for a long time to come. BP becomes the Sacrificial Lamb, BO an easy reference in some verse of the Bible.

While standing on the sideline, relatively speaking, an Obama Presidency assembles a team of field experts and scientists, specialized equipment and logistical infrastructure. At just the right time, the Legal Case being tightly secured, the President shows BP the way out of the Gulf and to the gallows. 

The American People take a hit, The President takes a hit, America's Future is secured. But the World has changed, profoundly.


A deep, deep problem

The truth about the BP oil gusher is that it might as well be happening on the moon as far as our technology is concerned. Everyone with any sense knew when we started drilling for oil a mile deep in the ocean, if anything ever went wrong, it would be near impossible to bring human senses directly to bear on the problem.

Instead, we have to rely on robotically operated subs. Ever try that game you run into sometimes at pizza parlors and other eateries where you put in 50 cents and try to use a set of remotely controlled claws to pluck out a stuffed animal? How many times do you actually win at that game? Now put it a mile deep under cold water, where the sun never shines.

Truth is there are only a handful of deep-sea submersibles worldwide. One of them, the U.S. Navy-owned Alvin, is currently being overhauled. How well any of these subs, built primarily for research purposes, would perform in a deep-sea oil-spill crisis, and the dangers that would pose to the machines and crews, is beyond my science education, but I suspect it would be a life-threatening job — and one with slight prospects for success [though I would be surprised if mission is not being organized right now, with training feverishly underway on the low-down].

So I say to anyone who questions the response to date, volunteer for that job. Short of that, we have to accept the fact that we should never have drilled deeper than we can effectively dive [and going foward should institute policy in that light]. This is a case of our technology not exceeding the depths of Mother Nature.

And no political response will change that.


Quiet effectiveness, yes, but few see it...

While I agree with Al as far as this post goes, and while voices on the left may begin now to see the larger picture of legislative success that Obama has been assembling, there is no diminution of irrational criticism from the right, which the mainstream media reports as if it were rational.  That gives plausibility to leading inside-the-Beltway pundits who influence the daily press corps and like to split differences but also cling to the cynicism that passes for intelligence on the op-ed pages.

Witness David Broder in the Washington Post yesterday, who said that Obama is "struggling" to impose his agenda "on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement" (as if Rand Paul were already in the U.S. Senate, or the Murtha seat had been taken by a Tea Partier).  Calling Obama's policies "expensive" and "interventionist", and claiming that Joe Sestak seems to have "disrespect" for Obama, Broder declared that the voters are turning against incumbents and Democrats are "nervous" about supporting the president.  In short, Broder refuses to give up the media frame that Obama is in Trouble.

Unfortunately there is still plenty of genuflection toward Broder and his ilk within the MSM, and these views echo what I hear within the Beltway.  Why does that matter? Because unless Obama changes the dominant news frame about his White House on the level of discourse (which is to say, what the public believes is happening) and not just on the level of incremental policy changes, he will still be swimming upstream politically. Local organizing is powerful, but national herding through tendentious media noise is not inconsequential.  It affects fund raising and turn-out.

My contention is that with the exception of his State of the Union speech, Obama hasn't tried to change the dominant frame of how his presidency is perceived.  As he has beavered away happily at building new policy dams, which have not been reported in a way proportionate to their significance, a new and negative dynamic is building in the public mind which Republicans have helped manufacture and the Broders have helped sustain -- and which the president is not systematically countering, much less superseding. Frankly I am not sure any longer that Obama or his political advisors even recognize how important the contest to shape the national debate is in American government.  And so when a disaster like the Gulf oil spills hits, everyone starts wringing their hands, wondering what Obama is going to do, and why he hasn't done it yet.  That's because his administration doesn't stand for any overarching theme or proposition, beyond a succession of new policies and laws, which are instantaneously forgotten and buried in the news stream.  His White House does one-offs, which don't stand for something larger -- or if they do, it hasn't been defined.

In November, there will be a question that voters will answer when they go to the polls.  If that question is, "America is still in trouble, and we need dramatic change," the Democrats will lose their House majority -- and then Obama's governing plans get significantly more difficult.  Broder is right to the extent that he senses there is a hunger among many normally apolitical independents for some kind of wholesale changes in the system.  The right is peddling the usual anti-government nonsense, but until and unless Obama describes how he'll change the system -- and not only make course corrections to existing policies -- the other side will win the contest for appearing to be offering changes which are more proportionate to the scale of the nation's problems.

I'd have two immediate suggestions.  First, the president should start doing full-dress press conferences again. For some reason, Axelrod and Emanuel have kept him out of that format, at which he excels.  It's nuts, because when he speaks extemporaneously rather than from prepared remarks, he exudes a sense of command, shows occasional humor and speaks to larger themes.  Second, it's way past time that he propose changes to the political system that give ordinary citizens a more direct way to influence government.  The response to the Citizens United decision, for example, should not be mechanistic and difficult to understand -- it has to be easily understood by the public, as designed to increase their impact on government at the expense of the impact of all the interests which corrupt almost everything that the Congress produces.  This would retake control of the drive for Change in Washington.  Unless Obama is actually satisfied with the existing system by which we finance electoral politics and permit the Senate to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the energy and financial industries, it's time he propose how he plans to leave our political system better off than how he found it.

Re: Tribunus Plebis

I rarely comment from afar, but I think this writer is too busy looking backwards to look forward. Nobody knows & understands the election game better than the Obama team. They know that anything that happens now or is said now will vanish into vacant space between now & November.

Just be patient & watch the last 2 months of the election cycle. Obama & his team will take their case to the public with a strength & conviction that will leave the whining pundits floundering in their wake. Those commentators that are beginning to look anew at the quiet achiever are already foreseeing this & changing their tack so as to be on the right side of history.

@ Helen

Helen - Welcome. You should comment here more often. Are your sure your name isn't Nate Silver? I especially loved your tip of the hat to the self interest of the commentators. You think clearly and without restraint. All power to you. Comment more, please. And if you ever want to guest-blog here, that would be fun. That comment was a home run.

The original mandate

Al I'm really grateful for this post because it vindicates all my hard work.  I think in all this people may lose sight of what the original mandate for Obama was.  I took two years of my life and devoted every waking moment to getting this man elected.  There wasn't anything I didn't do from office scut work, to training volunteers, knocking on doors, making phone calls, raising money, herding people through the caucus process, etc.  I can tell you that it wasn't the radical left who elected Obama.  It was the moderates and the independents and there was one constant refrain I heard day in and day out: I want a President who will get stuff done.  The moderates and independents don't really have a voice in the pundit class, yet instinctively they know that if the world is a neighborhood, America is the house with the fancy cars in the driveway, but the lawn is overgrown with weeds; the roof leaks, the plumbing and electrical need to be replaced (infrastructure) and the ceptic tank is backed up.  They want the cars to be sold and replaced with something sensible and the money that's left over to go toward repairs.  I don't know if this is a proper use of irony, but I think we all know the answer to this question.  When it comes time to mow the lawn and fix the roof and clean the ceptic system, who are we going to hire?

Obama is fulfilling his original mandate.  He is doing what he was hired to do: Get Stuff Done.


I have to laugh whenever I see a comment that begins, "Obama should..." or even sillier, "Obama must..."  As if Obama were breathlessly reading the bogs every morning to see what he should do, as if these commenters somehow knew more about the political process than this guy with the funny name who came from nowhere to become America's first black president against all odds.  And meanwhile, Obama goes his own way, and then suddenly when the media has written his obituary, there he is giving a historic speech on race which saves his candidacy or getting health care through congress in spite of the Mass. election.  I've noticed from watching Barack Obama these past few years that he is both patient and persistent and he does not have an infantile need to win every news cycle - but he seems to know how to win when it counts.  This drives some so-called progressives nuts because they are conditioned by the short attention span of our current culture.  It amazes me that they still don't understand how he operates - and neither do his enemies apparently, because they keep hammering away, getting more and more ridiculous, getting themselves farther and farther out on a limb, and then Obama comes along and saws off that limb with a smile.  He's never more dangerous to his adversaries than when his back is supposedly against the wall.  Keep up the innoculations, Al.  They are much needed.

regarding BP

Maybe it's because I'm here in NY at a relatively safe distance from the oil spill, but I don't get the criticism of Obama for not being more active.  Keith Olberman, for example, seems upset that Obama is not more, well, upset, and a couple of NYT columnists have complained that he is delegating too much to BP.  I think Krugman may have been the one to declare that Obama should have used the opportunity to propose some bold action on the environment in general.

But from my corner, no one is actually coming up with specific, realistic suggestions for what Obama should be doing.  It is almost as if they've been waiting for another opportunity to slam Obama. The sad truth is that there may be no easy solution, akin to making sure that people in the Superdome have sufficient water and food.  Even with the spill, most people in this country support more off-shore drilling.  And it's quite possible that the oil companies are the ones with the most expertise in addressing this disaster.

Obama's unearthly calm may have a downside politically; unlike Bill Clinton, he has trouble conveying outrage, which is what many people seem to value, even more than actual solutions. I suspect that Bill Clinton would not be subject to the same criticisms over the oil spill that Obama is enduring.

But even here, I suspect that Obama is playing the long-game. He probably realizes that interjecting himself into the clean-up efforts too visibly, without a magic bullet, would only raise expectations and backfire later.

Obama's real genius may be understanding timing.  Every time he gives a major speech or makes a major announcement, it seems ideally timed for maximum effect.  I bet the same happens here.

@ Helen: Reclaiming the political narrative

Disparaging "looking backward" at the lessons of American political history might be a good way to ignore those lessons, but that risks repeating earlier cycles of mistakes, to which progressives are especially prone. Barack Obama and his advisors were great campaign innovators in 2008, but they did not comprehensively transform American politics, any more than their precedessors of the left or the right did (remember the "genius" of Karl Rove?).  If Obama and his people were omniscient, perhaps they could afford to be unbothered that they've lost control of the narrative of his presidency, but right now half the country perceives Barack Obama as a Harvard-trained elitist who seems to be content with the political system we've got, because he hasn't proposed any significant changes to that system -- and it's our political system that stinks, even more than health care or Wall Street, in the view of a majority of Americans as measured by all polls. This may not be a fair appraisal of Obama's intentions or plans, but it's the gathering consensus about Obama, not merely from the pundits but from ordinary people in the street who do not share the irrationality of the hard right but who will vote in November.

If I were to sit back and expect that Obama and his advisors can wait until the last two months before this November's election and make their case with "strength and conviction," and wow the electorate and retain robust Democratic congressional majorities -- and in the meantime criticize those who notice that Obama is not doing things that previous politically successful presidents in our history did -- then I'd be putting too much stock in the sagacity of particular advisors while neglecting the task of offering constructive ideas about how the president can begin to reclaim the narrative now.  Those of us on the sidelines aren't obligated to default either to unquestioning support or condemnation of the leaders we like. There are many of us who want this president to succeed as much as anyone who has been less critical of him, but we don't believe that our resonsibility to help is limited to cheerleading.  That doesn't make me into Glenn Greenwald.  I want the people who wish me to succeed in my work to tell me what they think that I'm not yet doing well.  To do so is another, valid way of offering support.

No dramatics required

Talk about "keeping a boot on BP's neck" looks like grandstanding; giving us a scientific, independent estimate of the amount of oil pouring into the Gulf is not. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me, either, that BP be prevented from commandeering local enforcement to keep the press away from oil-drenched beaches.

Obama's approach was vindicated in HCR- great. And yes, I was a doubter for long stretches too. Again, though, this a national disaster, not an issue to be settled in Congressional offices and committee meetings. And democracy is still about information, not blind trust.


rosenberg and hegemony

The great thing about Roseberg is that he uses the word "hegemony" all the time without  having the faintest clue either of what it means or that his writings are an excellent (if tedious)  example of the effects. His uncritical acceptance of the dominant ideology in which all political action can be reduced to "media spin" is an example of hegemony at work.

He banned me from OpenLeft for pointing out that when white liberals consistently describe an obviously smart and well educated black man as ignorant, dumb, naive, and controlled by his white employees, one might guess that the liberalism is a less important factor in the analysis than the white.




Well, this is a great post,

Well, this is a great post, Al.  I agree with every word of it.  I'm afraid it is not to be though, one day later.  They will kill him now.  I'm thinking about turning off or shooting the TV out today.  I think it is totally Peak Poutrage 24 hrs a day again as I write.  I shook in fear this a.m. as Mika on Morning Ho suggested they go with 24 hr coverage.  That would be hysterical interviews with residents, of course, which I understand, but it is absolutely not healthy to view people in pain everyday with no way to help them.


I live 5 miles from the coast in SC so I allowed myself one day of ranting when I found out in late April that it would be 3 months before the relief well was done and the well could be capped permanently.  Everything BP has done since has been entertainment sorta.  It might have worked, but no sure thing.

Found out The Kid is smart though.....they ordered BP to drill 2 relief wells at the same time.....just in case!  My spouse & I started calling him The Kid affectionately when older anchors started saying daily......we have a new, young president.......will our new, young president know what to do, etc.  I think he's answered them with a resounding YES!


Lunatic Fringes

I have always looked upon the extreme, irrational wings of both left and right as unhelpful to the national dialog and more alike than they are diametrically opposed.  With glee, I have watched Obama effortlessly and simultaneously piss off both. His temperment and thoughtful moderation are why I was originally drawn to him and his candidacy.  Watching his calm competence cause the innately shrill to become completely unhinged is simply icing on the cake.

Rosenberg, Greenwald; criticism from the left

This hypocritical sniping at the left is insufferable.  Rosenberg, Greenwald and the many other vocal critics on the left, are the only reason Obama is able to accomplish anything.  They provide him the oxygen, the political space in the fictional media middle for enacting 'consensual' reform.  Keep up the criticism of Obama- Obama is neither foe nor advocate nor advocate to the left-more akin to a persuadable judge, magistrate, or referee that needs to be constantly pressured in our adversarial political system.

@ Harry

Harry - Rosenberg comparing Obama to Herbert Hoover doesn't move your "overton window" one centimeter, and nor has Glenn Greenwald been able to successfully push the administration on a single one of his priorities.

We do have a more recent example in today's repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, in which the Obama administration was successfully pushed to go along with it after some foot dragging. But it wasn't screaming meemies on blogs that did it. It was the hard organizing work of Servicemen United and an army of human rights organizations that organized their ranks to make phone calls to key members of Congress (like Carl Levin, who broke the logjam). While others were out there whining, they were doing the real work, and now they have something to show for it.

The problem is that if I don't smack down these faux leftards regularly, the media and the public begin to confuse them as spokespersons for "the left" and then lump all of the rest of us into that petulant category of perpetually poutraged, and none of us will get taken seriously then.

My main point, though, is look at who has succeeded in pushing Obama successfully and how they have accomplished it: through organization, not through tantrums. We all could learn from that to be better agents of change.

@ Al, Obama himself acknowledges criticism from the left

Al, despite your antipathy towards critics from the left of Obama, you cannot deny that pressure from the left does not work. Obama himself, in the meeting he had with Senate Republicans yesterday, acknowledged this. Check the 6th paragraph in this story out today:

Brownback said Obama explained several times that he was “under pressure from his left’’ on major issues, including climate change. Obama asked Republicans to be willing to take some of the same criticism from their right flank in working toward bipartisan accords, other senators said.

Can you deny that this statement indicates the effectiveness of push from the left?


Also do you think that Servicemen United is completely separate from the lefty blogs? In fact, they run actions in coordination with blogs like Open Left. Making the distinction there is just silly. Blogs like Open Left are doing effective things through organization. Moral outrage, its true, is an emotion that is present in their work and in other effective lefty leaders. It is an organizing tactic in itself.


For someone who claims that critics like Rosenburg are simply egocentric and make everything about themselves, making grandiose statements about your comments and their effect on the media and the public like this one should give anyone pause:

"The problem is that if I don't smack down these faux leftards regularly, the media and the public begin to confuse them as spokespersons for "the left""

Perhaps if you didn't lump everything to your left into the camp of "poutrage" (nice) you would be able to more effectively engage and work with other bloggers, including people who don't uniformly line up behind your ideological positions.


@ DavidinMD

DavidinMD - Yes, I am saying that the spadework of on the ground organizations like Servicemen United do a qualitatively different kind of work than a blog that hitches its wagon to that star (and that made, if anything, only a marginal fraction of a percent addition in work hours to the organization's work being done already). Still, when blogs cover that kind of work (or, say, the civil disobedience actions of Lt. David Choi) they doing what blogs ought to be doing.

But mixing that in with this constant bile-spitting BP gusher of tantrum is not helping, and many of its practitioners - Rosenberg, Greenwald, Hamsher, Sirota - are transparently seeking to share their own misery and make it so that nobody can acknowledge any small victory as a step on the road to bigger change. They're an embarrassment and as long as they keep landing cable TV gigs as token leftists I will continue exercising my right to criticize and mock them. They make it so easy!

But I do not at all accept your claim that somehow any of these people are "to the left" of me. What rubbish! They've been silent while I've reported and supported real class struggle throughout this hemisphere (Greenwald even lives down here - in Brazil - and has been AWOL on these fights). Where have they been in the multi-racial organizing efforts?Those people seem to think they live in the same rarified air of the cable TV programs they audition for: where only the opinions of white people count. That's not "to the left" of this small d-democrat of anarcho-syndicalist tendencies and a long trail of struggles and prison cells and court battles and real personal risks that have gone with it. On civil rights and other matters, they are way to the right of me.

Arguing that "yelling louder" is a tactic is just stupid. That's because it is a stupid tactic. And on those issues on which those folks have been doing it, they haven't moved Obama to the left on anything! That Boston Globe story you cite, he mentions climate change. What have they done about that? Nothing! You can't give them credit for the stuff they have been silent on while they've pursued their own obsessions!


DavidinMD - I not only don't want to work with those people. I will push them away from my foxhole if they try to come near it! They have the Midas touch in reverse. Every cause they touch turns to crap.

But you can't really claim that, compared to them, I have some problem working with people. I don't see any of them getting hundreds of applications and emails a year from young people wanting to learn the trade from them. I don't see any of them building long term organizing projects like the School of Authentic Journalism, or attracting the 70 communicators from 30 countries to it that we convened three months ago. I just am maybe a bit more choosy about who I wish to work with: people who do real work, for starters, and don't confuse venting their spleen with the real work.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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