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Articles that make me believe America will not be a superpower in 50 years


Mark Halperin's list of five things President Obama did well in his first year and five things Obama did poorly in his first year is quite a document. As others have noted, the five things Obama did well, according to Halperin, amounted to "governing the country." The five things that Obama did badly (aside from Halperin's critique of the White House's internal policy process) are mainly about image management. To wit: "Managing his public image." The most egregious, though, is "wooing official Washington."

Politically and personally, the First Couple and their top aides have shown no hankering for the Establishment seal of approval, nor have they accepted the glut of invitations to embassy parties and other tribal rituals of the political class. In the sphere of Washington glitter, the Clintons were clumsy and the Bush team indifferent, but the Obama Administration has turned a cold shoulder, disappointing Beltway salons and newsrooms whose denizens hoped the ├╝ber-cool newbies would play.

Apparently, the administration -- which is governing during one of the most crises-laden periods in recent history and which is still operating without a number of its key officials -- should be spending more time partying. The charitable interpretation is that Halperin thinks this prioritization is making Obama's life unnecessarily hard: The White House could be getting better press coverage, and more support from established powerbrokers, if it was fanning out to more embassy parties, and that would make governing easier.

You wonder, however, whether Halperin recognizes the rot and corruption he's suggesting in "official Washington." The same goes for his item on Obama's media failures, which argues that Obama's "image makers have not been deft enough in finding a happy medium that allows Obama to be Obama while neutralizing some of the more poisonous, potentially indelible story lines."

Official Washington consists mainly of people who are paid to understand American politics. They shouldn't need to be feted at parties. Indeed, if their conclusions are being changed by glimpsing Larry Summers at the British Embassy, they're doing a terrible job. Either Obama is governing well and is worthy of respect or he isn't, but the assessment can't be that he's governing well but not coming to enough parties. At least, not unless we're in some serious "Fall of Rome" days here in Washington.

Similarly, a journalist who is so uninformed about merits of what's actually going on that a slick call from David Axelrod changes her opinion of Obama's performance should be fired. It's one thing to play the perception game during campaigns. But governance actually has real, tangible things you can evaluate. Is Obama closer or further from passing health-care reform than his predecessors? Will the bill improve or hurt the situation? Could it have been substantially better or worse given the congressional constraints? If Halperin really believes that Obama's image should be in better shape than it is, then that's an indictment of his -- and my -- profession, not of the White House.

Photo credit: Alex Brandon/AP.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 5, 2010; 12:32 PM ET
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Next: Maybe George W. Bush did know something about health care


"Similarly, a journalist who is so uninformed about merits of what's actually going on that a slick call from David Axelrod changes her opinion of Obama's performance should be fired"

Her? Halperin is a HER? Hoocoodanode?!

Posted by: donovong | January 5, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to suggest to anyone who can get in touch with David Plouffe and the re-elect 2012 team to keep this Halperin piece and use it repeatedly in campaign ads. What a great endorsement to normal people to have some navel-gazing Beltway type say the president doesnt come to enough Washington DC parties!!

Also, can we please speed up the day in which we're no longer a superpower? I'd very much enjoy one evening turning on the news and having some future President of the United States not have to speak on behalf of the "free world" or whatever it is we're supposed to be leading, and really be of little more consequence than the Canadian PM. If thats rooting for "American decline" then I guess count me in, I see it as more a desire to close the Global Police Department, and Global Marriage Counselor, and all the rest. The burden of empire is too much for us.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | January 5, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

"Similarly, a journalist who is so uninformed about merits of what's actually going on that a slick call from David Axelrod changes her opinion of Obama's performance should be fired."

I agree with your point here, Ezra, but I think it's a little gauche to try to open up an editorial spot at the Post by lobbying to get David Broder fired.

Posted by: eelvisberg | January 5, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

HCR will do it first.

Posted by: obrier2 | January 5, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

While I have no love for Halperin, I read "Doing worse than you think" differently than you do.

It doesn't say that Obama's doing worse on these things than he should be, just that Halperin thinks the 'conventional wisdom' on these things are wrong...

You may think Obama has been courting "official Washington", but he has not. You may think he has been successfully managing his PR, but he is no.

I don't agree with Halperin's conclusions, but I suppose I read it as less of a critique of what he 'ought' to be doing than one of how well conventional wisdom matches Halperin's perception of reality.

Which is usually off.

Posted by: js4981 | January 5, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I would think part of "Changing the Tone in Washington" would be not wasting time "Wooing Official Washington." Disturbing that Obama is failing at both.

Posted by: SimonCox | January 5, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

The best comment is by 'zeppelin003'. Can we really shrug off this Super Power Business? How nice that will be and then we will also not have 'undi-bombers'...

When America tends her own house well, global influence automatically increases without doing anything. Ignoring that at times seems the 'original sin' of Obama Presidency - not to understand the 'gravity, centrality and urgency' of bringing our economic house in order.

For that clearly whatever 'cold shoulder' Obama needs to give to Washington Elite; he is on the right track. Not just cold shoulder, but give them the entire DC snow and Arctic Weather which is blowing on East Coast...

Posted by: umesh409 | January 5, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

When people talk about decadence leading to an empire's fall, this is exactly what they're talking about.

Posted by: TWAndrews | January 5, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

For someone who knows the political process and media really well, you're surprisingly idealistic, Ezra. Try to be a little more cynical, it will do you a world of good.

Posted by: goinupnup | January 5, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse


A wonderfully iconoclastic post! I know the year is young, but this qualifies as an early favorite for the "Top Takedown" of 2010.

The self-importance of our punditry class is at once comical and sad.

Posted by: Ross7 | January 5, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Does "annoying/befuddling Mark Halperin" fall into the "did well" category or the "did poorly" category?

Posted by: bdballard | January 5, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

and what on earth (no pun intended) is "creating stars?"

Posted by: bdballard | January 5, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

There's a reason they call it "LA for ugly people," y'know?

Posted by: NS12345 | January 5, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Not "fall of Rome" so much as "last days of Versailles."

Posted by: randrewm | January 6, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

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