One-click Wednesday roundup
Obama's multiple messages
The president is making all kinds of news--and serving as a media critic on the side.
The classic political strategy, especially in the home stretch of election season, is to pick one theme and pound it again and again. Temperamentally speaking, I'm not sure that Barack Obama is capable of that--and in today's Twitterized universe, it may no longer be possible. He even found himself talking about his religion.
On Monday, the president spent half an hour with Matt Lauer, talking about education reform. That happens to be a largely unsung area of bold reform efforts by the administration, but in the current environment I don't think it buys Obama three votes.
On Tuesday, Rolling Stone published a wide-ranging interview with the president. Yep, it might seem odd for Obama to talk to the same magazine that cost Stanley McChrystal his job. But Jann Wenner endorsed him two years ago and has been a fairly steadfast supporter.
Obama could have finessed the question about Fox News, but he chose to answer this way:
"The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition -- it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It's a point of view that I disagree with. It's a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it's been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it's that Fox is very successful."
He's bashed Fox a number of times, but maybe it fires up the base.
On the same day, the White House practically endorsed MSNBC, with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton saying: "If you're on the left, if you're somebody like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or one of the folks who helps to keep our government honest and pushes and prods to make sure that folks are true to progressive values, then he thinks that those folks provide an invaluable service."
In the Wenner sitdown, Obama highlighted his accomplishments: "I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now."
And: "I've gotta say that I have been surprised by some of the rhetoric in the business press, in which we are accused of being anti-business."
As for the inevitable Rolling Stone question about his iPod, the president said that "my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert."
Is the rap vote still in play? Anyone got a poll on that?
In a backyard appearance in New Mexico Tuesday, the man whom a chunk of the country thinks is a Muslim Obama answered a question about his religion: "I'm a Christian by choice," adding that his family "weren't folks who went to church every week...
"We can still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace. So that's what I strive to do and pray to do every day.... I think my public service is a part of that effort to express my Christian faith."
It is the nature of the modern presidency to have to play defense against all kinds of assaults, even on your own church-going.
Obama is still at 46 percent in the new NBC/WSJ survey. But Nancy Pelosi is at 22 percent.
Obama's name, of course, doesn't appear on the November ballot. But while Democratic candidates are trying to run their own races--which in some cases mean running away from him--Obama has little choice, in this nationalized election, but to play cheerleader-in-chief.
Biden's fine whine
Joe Biden was trying to fire up his base.
And he succeeded--although not in the way he intended.
The vice president knows that Democratic apathy could turn a Republican wave into a tsunami on Nov. 2. So he's been exhorting the so-called base to close ranks, get fired up, stop whining and fight the GOP.
Turns out liberal activists and pundits don't particularly like being dubbed whiners.
Lawrence O'Donnell gave the veep a chance to walk it back, on his MSNBC show, by asking if Biden wanted to "revise and extend" his remarks. Biden simply substituted the more neutral call for the administration's supporters to "buck up."
There's a larger issue here than Biden dropping the W-word. Many folks on the left have real, substantive disagreements with much of what Obama has done, or left undone. That doesn't vanish with some preelection cheerleading.
Biden is trying to make the case that the midterms are not just about the president's performance (and that of congressional Democrats) but about the alternative: Sure, you may not be thrilled with us, but think about life under Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell.
But language matters in politics, as we can see from the reaction, starting with Salon Editor Joan Walsh:
"Now, I'm trying hard not to have a knee-jerk response to Biden's dig. After attacks on the 'professional left' and the '[blanking] retarded' progressives trying to run primary campaigns against Blue Dogs, and Obama's own plea last week to "griping and groaning Democrats... It's true that the healthcare and financial reform bills were the most ambitious, far-reaching social legislation since the Great Society. You add in the $787 billion stimulus package, and it seems like a trifecta of social change that should have progressives ecstatic - especially when you consider that the right considers all of that legislation proof that Obama is a socialist.
"Of course the problem is that all three of those accomplishments were the product of ugly, maybe even uglier-than-usual compromise, the first two with financial and insurance titans who caused the problems the bills were supposed to solve. The third, the stimulus, was crafted to win over Republicans, which made it a much less effective package than it needed to be - and then they still overwhelmingly voted against it...
"Maybe Biden will come out tomorrow and say his 'stop whining' order was another one of his loveable gaffes, and apologize. But probably not. Every administration insult to the base has been followed not by an apology, but by a doubling down on the criticism. I am on record chiding the left for being unrealistic about expectations and failing to realize that changing the country is more than a two-to-four year endeavor. But the administration's persistent impulse to insult the most loyal Democrats suggests they don't know how to organize for the long haul, either."
Clearly, this didn't start with the whining comment.
Liberal blogger Taylor Marsh has a laundry list:
"I'd suggest the Obama White House try a little humility, especially considering movement progressives were right about health care, the stimulus, tax cuts, DADT, Afghanistan, but also since the latest anti privacy move is basically what any Republican would do, but Mr. Obama doesn't do humble.
"It speaks volumes that Democrats don't get the reason the base is unengaged is because, contrary to what Joe Biden has been saying, along with Robert Gibbs and even Pres. Obama, promises have not been kept.
"Remember Obama on health care for everyone?
"Remember Obama on Gitmo?
"Remember Obama railing against Bush about civil liberties?"
She goes on. And on.
On the right, Hot Air's Allahpundit is enjoying the bickering:
"The One's been throwing himself a big pity party lately because liberals don't appreciate him but neglects to mention the comic pathos of last week's nutroots conference call with David Axelrod. And what about Gibbs's shot heard 'round the world in unloading on the 'professional left,' or Rahm's infamous salute to liberals who wanted ObamaCare to be even more statist? At this point there's no one in the inner circle except, I guess, Valerie Jarrett who hasn't grumbled publicly about the lefty base, which amazes me in light of all the anger at the moment among conservatives directed at establishment Republicans like Rove and Krauthammer for lesser sins. Can you imagine the reaction on the right if, say, President Romney's team was endlessly whining about how unappreciated they felt by the Republican base?...
"As much as I enjoy this hot internecine blue-on-blue action, I can't blame rank-and-file lefties for being annoyed with Team Barry. If anything, their reaction thus far has been remarkably subdued."
In a related column, National Review Editor Rich Lowry sees a pattern in a certain political party blaming the voters:
"Whatever else you think of Democrats, they are lousy amateur sociologists and political scientists. Whenever the public rejects them, it's a 'temper tantrum,' in late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings's term for the 1994 electoral rout. Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has teed up that tried-and-true explanation for this fall: 'The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.'
"Obama has his own theory of voter irrationality. In his view, if only economic conditions were stronger, reasonable people would be Obama-supporting secularists with liberal mores. During the 2008 primaries, he infamously explained that people in rural areas who weren't supporting him were clinging to guns and religion because of the poor economy. He has attributed misgivings about Islam to economic anxieties. It's the all-purpose explanation for any public sentiment that discomfits liberals.
"Not far behind is the plaint that 'the system' is broken so people are understandably frustrated by the 'pace of change.' The New Republic profiles 'disillusioned' Obama adviser David Axelrod and explains that he's despairing over a 'ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system.' This is the same system through which Democrats forced a historic $800 billion stimulus bill, a historic health-care law and a historic financial-regulation bill -- as well as lesser stimuli and government takeovers."
Blaming the ill-informed voters--or the paralyzed system--basically doesn't work. People want results, and they don't want to hear a bunch of, ah, whining, about how difficult governing is.
Footnote: Obama, using safer language, tells Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner: "It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election...People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up."
For midterms, Fox on top
On television, having an impact is the name of the game.
By that measure, cable news is a winner, and Fox News is the big winner.
But what if having means that plenty of people don't like you?
Actually, that works just fine. Controversy sells. Some people tune in just to yell at the screen. For a cable host, driving the other side crazy is far preferable to the alternative, which is nobody is talking about you--or, still worse, most folks haven't heard of you.
A Politico/George Washington University poll shows how the cable news channels, once an afterthought to the big broadcast boys, are really where the action is now, despite relatively modest ratings.
The headline: "81 percent of those polled get their news about the midterm elections from cable channels, like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, or their websites, compared with 71 percent from national network news channels, such as ABC, NBC or CBS, and their websites."
And in that world, "Fox was the clear winner, with 42 percent of respondents saying it is their main source, compared with 30 percent who cited CNN and 12 percent who rely on MSNBC."
You'd expect Fox, which dominates the ratings, to be out front. I have no idea why MSNBC, which has been beating CNN in prime time, scored so low.
With some Fox hosts and contributors out-and-out Republicans and GOP boosters--Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity and (except when Christine O'Donnell is involved) Karl Rove, this clearly helps the out party in its drive to recapture Congress.
"Fox's opinionated personalities were also rated as having the greatest positive impact on the political debate in the country. Bill O'Reilly was rated as having, by far, the greatest positive impact, with 49 percent of respondents rating him positively, and 32 percent negatively.
"Glenn Beck was the second most-positively rated personality, with 38 percent of respondents saying he had a positive impact, and 32 percent saying he had a negative impact."
So they're divisive. We kinda knew that. But they have loyal audiences.
"Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was the third-most-positively ranked, with 36 percent saying he has a positive impact on the discourse, but his negatives far outweighed his positives, with 52 percent saying he has a negative impact."
"MSNBC's personalities were largely ranked as unknown by respondents: 70 percent said they had never heard of Ed Schultz, 55 percent said they had never heard of Rachel Maddow and 42 percent said they had never heard of Keith Olbermann."
Now that's got to hurt. Although Maddow has been on the air for just two years, and Schultz about a year.
"Although Comedy Central's Jon Stewart was ranked as having more of a positive than negative influence on the debate -- 34 percent said positive compared with 22 percent for negative -- 34 percent of respondents said they had never heard of him."
What?? I am shocked. The guy hosted the Oscars!
Turns out the biggest group in the survey, 21 percent, are 55 to 64 years old. Stewart skews young. Mystery solved.
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