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Different Approaches to Judging Obama

By Dan Froomkin
12:43 PM ET, 03/11/2009

I'm increasingly starting to think that, when it comes to judging President Obama, the things that matter the most to the Washington political and media elite are not the same things that matter the most to the rest of America.

The former group seems most interested in what we in Washington call "the optics" -- whether things are looking good or not and who seems to be winning or losing -- on a day-to-day or even moment-by-moment basis. By contrast, the latter group seems to take a broader measure of the man, focusing on whether he seems to them to be trying to make things better. The former group is increasingly finding fault with Obama, while the latter still seems quite enamored.

I put this topic to members of my White House Watchers discussion group. And I found some of the responses fascinating, and well worth sharing.

"WilyArmadilla" writes: "I think Washington is so full of people who've been conditioned to the 'Us agin' Them' mindset that they can't break free. The beltway insiders seem to believe that GOVERNING is a zero sum, win-lose proposition. Most of us in the hinterlands just want the sober, honest truth about where we are and what our leaders plan to help us survive.

"I find it ludicrous that the pundocracy is already suggesting that the Obama presidency is a failure because he didn't come into office, wave his wand and cure all the problems that it took Bush and the Republicans eight long years to construct."

"MrInternational" writes: "Washington will never get Obama...And that's, in part, why he was elected. When you add up all of 'the little people' you get the vast majority of America. The 'little people' aren't looking for 'a Daddy figure'. They're looking for someone who is actually trying to move the country forward on issues that are important to all of us. Even if they don't necessarily agree with his direction, he's making a sincere effort. Heck, nowadays many people may even settle for a Pres who just gives the appearance of giving a darn about real life issues."

"j2hess" writes: "It's just the same old palace politics - with the courtiers and wanabes obsessing over whose stock is up and whose is down, who the king smiled on today and the latest strategy of the lord high chamberlain."

"wistlo" writes: "If Obama can take any positive cues from his predecessor, it would be to act boldly without regard for what the chattering beltway crowd has to say...

"For some issues, George W. Bush wasn't compelled by anything but God and Dick Cheney. Take a lesson from that, Barack."

"EarlC" writes: "Congress does not understand Obama because Congress has its own petty problems. Obama clearly comes from a culture of inclusion and free-flowing ideas. Congress has become a group of armed camps doing battle for recognition. Obama has no problem sharing the credit for things. Congress has become so polarized that if one side said that they were for something, the other side would automatically be against it. This is no way to run Congress."

"fzdybel" writes: "From what I can see of it, Obama is coming from the point of view that the Presidency has limited powers and responsibilities, that it is circumscribed by law, particularly the US Constitution. Washington is still trying to figure out where the next imperial presidency is going to flex its muscles on this, that, or the other matter. They're expecting a reprise of the Bush-Cheney-Rove unitary executive with a Democratic Congress following along in lock step, the White House remaining a key gateway for any successful legislation. There is nothing fated, inescapable or necessary about that style of governance, it was a choice. Old Washington hands just smile and say that is how things work, but I expect Obama to choose very differently, and the essential conservatism of his philosophy of governance is not only going to astonish so-called conservatives but also surprise and disappoint some progressives."

And "jowc123" writes: "He is just trying to do what he said he would do!! Did you listen to anything he said?...

"He inherited a mess. And it got worse between the election and January...He has been slow in filling a few critical slots...in part because of his stand on lobby folks. That may have been unrealistic in retrospect.

"Give him some time. Folks out here in the center land intend to. No, I don't think he is perfect. But given the options we had two years ago, he was far and away the best choice."

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