Obama After Two Years

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Peter Baker has a big story in the New York Times this week about Barack Obama’s first two years in office, complete with lots of navel gazing about what Team Obama has done wrong. David Corn is unimpressed:

The White House with this article (well executed by Baker) has demonstrated a sense of lousy political timing. There are not many days left before voters hit the polls for the critical midterm elections. Now is not the moment for a high-profile “We blew the politics” admission. The White House ought to be in full attack mode. Yet this intriguing tale of presidential second-thoughts, made possible by White House cooperation, is ready-made for endless regurgitation within the media.

My guess is that this is mostly an example of the Bob Woodward syndrome: the article was going to be written whether Obama liked it or not, so his choice was either to cooperate, and at least get his side of the story on the record, or not cooperate and have the whole thing end up one-sided and hostile. So he cooperated.

Beyond that, I think my reaction to Baker’s piece was the opposite of David’s: I was surprised at how boring it was. Baker is a pro, and the prose was fine, but there was hardly anything new or interesting in the piece at all. Obama is disappointed at the depth of Republican obstructionism. Obama thinks the media is obsessed with trivialities. Obama thinks his substantive record is pretty good. Obama and his staff are cogitating over what they’ll do for the next two years. Conservatives think Obama is too liberal and liberals think he’s not liberal enough. (For some reason, Baker calls this “confusing and deeply contradictory.”) Etc. In fact, the only paragraph in the piece that I thought was enlightening was this one:

“Given how much stuff was coming at us,” Obama told me, “we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”

Italics mine. Obama does seem to take a perverse pride in ostentatiously showing that he doesn’t care much about his own political base — something that’s really pretty odd coming from a former community organizer — and it’s interesting to see that his self-reflection extends to being honest even about this. But I wonder if this means he seriously plans to do better on this front over the next couple of years? Or if he just thinks that he needs to fine tune his speeches a little?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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