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 über-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.
January 5, 2010; 12:32 PM ET
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