Yet More Obama Navel Gazing

Ah, more link bait today from John Harris and Jim VandeHei of Politico. But first, allow me to complain about this:

What is Obamaism? Conservatives think he stands for backdoor socialism. Liberals think he is a sell-out. Independents think he is a president with no clear compass who is breaking the bank with excessive spending.

Blecch. For better or worse, Barack Obama is a pragmatic, even-tempered, mainstream American liberal. He always has been. I can’t really argue with the accuracy of this paragraph, but I sure wish more people could get a grip on the obvious.

And now for the passage everyone is upset about:

Polls show most self-described liberals still strongly support Obama. But an elite group of commentators on the left — many of whom are unhappy with him and are rewarded with more attention by being critical of a fellow Democrat — has a disproportionate influence on perceptions.

The liberal blogosphere grew in response to Bush. But it is still a movement marked by immaturity and impetuousness — unaccustomed to its own side holding power and the responsibilities and choices that come with that.

So many liberals seem shocked and dismayed that Obama is governing as a self-protective politician first and a liberal second, even though that is also how he campaigned. The liberal blogs cheer the fact that Stan McCrystal’s scalp has been replaced with David Petreaus’s, even though both men are equally hawkish on Afghanistan, but barely clapped for the passage of health care. They treat the firing of a blogger from the Washington Post as an event of historic significance, while largely averting their gaze from the fact that major losses for Democrats in the fall elections would virtually kill hopes for progressive legislation over the next couple years.

This would make a lot more sense if H&V named a few names. Still, I assume that they’re talking about folks like Keith Olbermann, Jane Hamsher, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Krugman, and James Carville, all of whom, in their own way, have been pretty critical of Obama. They’re not talking about milquetoast sellouts like Kevin Drum, Ezra Klein, Jon Chait, or E.J. Dionne. The question is, is the former group “rewarded with more attention by being critical of a fellow Democrat,” and do they therefore have a disproportionate influence on perceptions?

Eh. I guess. Maybe. Thanks largely to conflict junkies like Politico. But haven’t liberals always specialized in purity police and circular firing squads? We wouldn’t be liberals if we all got along with each other, and the growth of the blogosphere hardly has anything to do with that. This is just the way the left operates.

But screw it. I’m just going to turn over the mike to one of my regular correspondents:

There is some valid criticism in this article, but much of it is fruit of the poisonous tree of the sour economy (which I know is an old saw at this point). And while they explain — mostly at the end of the piece — that the economy is really the overriding factor, they still try to divorce things like communication and political skills from economic performance. This allows them to say that Obama’s inability to clear the field in certain states shows poor politics and that his message isn’t breaking through, the speeches aren’t as powerful, etc. But, fundamentally, people are pissed off because of the economy. I’m pissed off because of the economy — I’m making a lot less than I did 2 years ago and my family is really feeling it now. You therefore can’t tell me in this day and age of massive communication that, despite my lying eyes, things are getting better.

So when they posit as fact that people will be tolerant of a down economy if the President can convince them things are on an upward climb, they really have no basis to back that up in an economy like this one. Yes, we’re in an upward climb but it is not impacting employment — or investments — two of the most tangible economic measurements to voters. So, not surprisingly, it’s not breaking through. And no amount of speechwriting or communciation or political finesse can change this dynamic. The evidence for this is that mainstream press outlets are publishing stories saying that the Obama administration is flirting with a failed presidency even though it’s piling up legislative accomplishments.

What he said. Birds fly, snakes creep, fish swim, and analysts analyze. If you want to, you can come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is failing. But if the economy were doing well and Obama were riding high in opinion polls, V&H would come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is succeeding. Unfortunately, admitting that the economy is the overriding explanation for everything makes for a very short, very boring column, and no one wants to write it. It’s still true, though.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.