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Opinion Watch

Richard Cohen, writing in his Washington Post opinion column, concludes that Obama's foreign policy "realism" means that "the American century" is over.

And, after misattributing them to a recent blurb for a book, he uses Obama's comments about theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr to New York Times columnist David Brooks two years ago to conclude that the "Obama Doctrine" is "to have none at all."

Here's what Obama told Brooks: "I take away the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism."

Howard Fineman writes for Newsweek that "in ways both large and small, what's left of the American Establishment is taking his measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking."


Fineman says he traces the reasons "to a central trait of the president's character: he's not really an in-your-face guy. By recent standards -- and that includes Bill Clinton as well as George Bush -- Obama for the most part is seeking to govern from the left, looking to solidify and rely on his own party more than woo Republicans. And yet he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He'd have made a fine judge. But we don't need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach."

Speaking of the Establishment, Bob Herbert writes in his New York Times opinion column that "too many of the public officials who should have been looking out for the middle class and the poor were part of the reckless and shockingly shortsighted alliance of conservatives and corporate leaders that rigged the economy in favor of the rich and ultimately brought it down completely...

"Working people were not just abandoned by big business and their ideological henchmen in government, they were exploited and humiliated. They were denied the productivity gains that should have rightfully accrued to them. They were treated ruthlessly whenever they tried to organize. They were never reasonably protected against the savage dislocations caused by revolutions in technology and global trade....

"Now, with the economy in free fall and likely to get worse, Americans -- despite their suffering -- have an opportunity to reshape the society, and then to move it in a fairer, smarter and ultimately more productive direction. That is the only way to revive the dream, but it will take a long time and require great courage and sacrifice."

Meanwhile, over in my White House Watchers group, I'm asking: Does Washington just not get Obama?

Chicago Tribune opinion columnist John McCarron writes an open letter to his fellow former Tribune reporter David Axelrod: "From now on, David, your job is all about anger management.

"There's a lot of anger out there. People are seeing their life savings cut in half, their job security stripped away, their children's prospects for college and careers drastically dimmed."

McCarron's advice to Axelrod is to "make sure you don't let your opponents turn this powerful force against your administration and its agenda for change. You know it's their plan.

"How to stop that from happening? First and foremost, by taking advantage of every opportunity to remind folks, in a pleasant but firm way, just how we got into this mess in the first place.

"People need to keep their history straight. For the next few years American politics is going to turn on remembrance of things just past, and whose version of what happened -- yours or theirs -- is the more credible."

That reminded me of something Robert Reich blogged last week: "Republicans have made no secret of their wish to blame Obama for the bad economy, and to stir up as much populist rage against his so-called 'socialist' tendencies as politically possible. History shows how effective demagogic ravings can be when a public is stressed economically. Make no mistake: Angry right-wing populism lurks just below the surface of the terrible American economy."

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 10, 2009; 1:23 PM ET
Categories:  Opinion Watch  
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Next: Watch Out for the Democrats


"For the next few years American politics is going to turn on remembrance of things just past, and whose version of what happened -- yours or theirs -- is the more credible."

McCarron's advice is valuable, but he's a little late to the party. The GOP has been planting and cultivating false narratives for decades. (Do you think Vietnam protesters spit on returning soldiers? Congrats, you've been snookered by a 35 year old conservative lie.)

It's a good topic to bring up often though, because Democrats have made little progress in effectively neutralizing the propaganda.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 10, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Howard Fineman! We don't need an articulate, persuasive, visionary "judge" at this time of crisis. We need a "blunt-spoken coach" ... preferably a bicycle-riding baseball coach with a wad of tobacco in his cheek...preferably one who has failed to master the English who launches wars without provocation...who is willing to make the dumb decision demanded by the uneducated gas blaster of AM who doesn't rely on the niceties of laws but assumes unlimited power without so much as a "by your leave"...someone who sees the world as clearly divided between good and evil...who relies not on his brain or his advisers but his "gut." Where, oh, where could we find such a man?

Posted by: motorfriend | March 10, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Richard Cohen is senile.

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

With due respect to Mr. Cohen, the 19th century didn't technically end until the start of 1901. The assassination of the archduke and his wife in 1914 was strictly a tipping point - declaring it to be the defining moment of the end of the victorian era ignores the historical reality of the military build-up, imperialistic/competitive urges and entangling alliances that had been out of control in European countries for years prior to 1914. The Balkans were the fuse then (the weakened confederation of Austria-Hungary used the assassinations as a pretext to attack Serbia, and not without justification), and will probably incite future problems.

Mr. Cohen should study his history before he attempts use it as justification for journalist pronouncements. Is Obama's presidency the end of 20th century politics? Who knows?

Posted by: MillPond2 | March 10, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

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