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Different Approaches to Judging Obama

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 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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 11, 2009; 12:43 PM ET
Categories:  Obama v. D.C.  
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I endorse the analysis of j2hess. The success of Rove/Bush/Cheney among Washington elites owed more to everyone being comfortable with their choice to be lords of the realm than to any fulfillment of their constitutional republican roles.

Posted by: redacted54 | March 11, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Just to weigh in on the "Daddy figure" comment, I feel the same way about daddy figures in politics that I felt in 2000 when G.W. Bush was running. I have a perfectly satisfactory daddy. The last thing I need is someone from the political world trying to "fill that gap in my life." There's no gap to fill. Don't have much use for a politician to be my drinking buddy either.
Similarly, I think Sarah Palin is attractive, but I have pictures of TV and movie stars on the internet to fill that particular need. Again, people are expecting the political world to fill a need that, for me anyway, is nonexistent.
What I'd like to see in a President and what I do see in Barack Obama is a good ship's captain (Yeah, I'm a Navy vet), someone who knows where all the rocks and shoals and eddies and currents are, someone who knows how to steer and someone who can get on the horn every now and then and say "Now hear this..." in such a way that people stand up and pay attention.

Posted by: rlg3526 | March 11, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Dan, you put your finger on it: "...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." I think you're right, and that might explain all the 50-day hysteria and multi-tasking complaints among the so-called "elite" of both stripes.

I think it's personal to them. On cable, Anderson Cooper always looks very worried when discussing the day's stock market close. Pat Buchanan is alarmingly angry. Most of the morning and evening regulars seem personally ticked off.

To the extent that political and media elite are presumably heavily invested in the stock market, they have a personal desire to see that Dow go back over ten thousand. Their personal wealth is at stake. Politicians too, plus they surely want Wall Street to like them.

Conversely, in my low-paid heartland community, $50k is a darned great salary. Housing prices are stable. Gas is cheap. Groceries and utilities are up a bit, but affordable. I have yet to see a foreclosure sign in town. Unemployment is certainly up, but low wages in a job lessen the difference between pay and unemployment insurance. People can survive on unemployment.

Of the 90% +/- of Americans who do have a paycheck, I wonder how many count their comparatively small investments as a large part of their personal "wealth?" In other words, "when you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose."

This distinction -- many of us out here in the country didn't personally lose a whole lot in the stock market decline -- is probably incomprehensible to those who did lose a lot.

It's a real disconnect.

Julie, Dem in Arkansas

Posted by: jpel | March 11, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Also inherent in the thought and behavior of the Washington Insider is the "What's in it for me?" factor. And until Congresscreatures and senators are limited to two terms, and men and women come forward to SERVE their country, the champagne fattened sluggards and bloviating windbags will prevail, and we 'little people' can go whistle Dixie. And hoo boy did I ever clean that one up!


Posted by: ruinedbruin | March 11, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I do wish that he wouldn't do quite so much to protect the Bush administration. So far, it seems that he wants to hang on to most of the Bush Imperial Presidency powers except for the torture part.

Posted by: dickdata | March 11, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

There is a fierce power struggle going on in Washington. It consists of people who were basically handed the keys to the kingdom with almost anything they wanted from Bush. Granted they had substantial influence before Bush came on the scene, but he gave them a lot more power and influence. Understandably they do not want to lose that.

Take for instance the financial institutions that received TARP money, our tax dollars, have spent millions of it lobbying Congress and think nothing of it! I don't know how many Democrats have refused or returned their money, however, Pelosi is leading the pack and a few have followed.

The media have been more than irresponsible in "reporting" the contents of stimulus bill along with the omnibus bill that just passed, yet protect the powers that be. Without fact-checking mostly they repeat Republican talking points.

The housing crisis is a prime example. They take to the airwaves and make multiple appearances on TV to blame the homeowners. In effect the goal is to illicit e_motional reactions against using tax-payer money to stem the tide of foreclosures.

I live in a relatively small neighbourhood where rarely does one see a For Sale sign and more rare, two simultaneously. And even then they always sold quickly. I decided today to drive thru all the cul-de-sacs and counted 11 (eleven) homes for sale. The asking price is much lower than what the homes are (or were) worth. Although I haven't inquired yet, Iam not sure if that is due to decreased home values or the state of the housing market lack of buyers.

At any rate foreclosures affect all of us. But you do not hear that being discussed. Instead the media tries to convince us we are paying our neighbours mortgages because they were irresponsible buyers, but nothing about predatory lending practices and loosened regulations.

Although the public is way ahead of the Washington elite -- they will not go quietly into the night. They will continue to go on TV and write op-eds that are fact-free and any thing else to mislead the public to not lose the power that is slipping away.

Notably this has been nothing more than a charade, a fiasco, a circus. While in the midst of a global economic crisis the main topic du jour: "is Obama doing too much?" Or "Has Obama failed?" It is not just annoying it is appalling!

Eventually the power brokers will have to relinquish some of their power. That won't happen until it gets personal for them, too, notwithstanding.

In time, the people will endure.

Posted by: serena1313 | March 11, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

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