Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Case For Obama's First Term

By jakeh at TNR, 10,29, 2102:

...CRS, do you have any links to any Obama promise to "address the de facto segregation in America"? I don't recall that, nor do I know how he would do that. Nor do I recall his ever promising to deal head-on with urban crime, which, while a nasty problem, is one that is seen mainly as a local one, and is low on the national agenda. (Chicago is dealing with an increased murder rate basically due to the vagaries of gang politics, and not, say, due to a lack of police officers. Chicago has among the most cops per capita in the nation, and other forms of crime are down.) Nor do I recall foreign aid to Africa featuring prominently in Obama's professed agenda. Meanwhile, I think that Obama would point to the economic stimulus, health care, education reform, community college funding, and student aid -- measures that, while addressed to the nation as a whole (and, in the case of education reform, not measures that I happen to agree with), are geared toward lifting those who are struggling, softening the blow of an economic downturn that minority communities, blacks especially, feel most acutely, and moving toward more equal opportunity. How many black people still have a union job, or any job, due to Obama's rescue of the domestic auto industry, or the stimulus aid to the states? How many black people are able to collect unemployment benefits because Obama extended them in the midst of an economic downturn, and against Republican opposition, because he recognized that individuals are not responsible for macroeconomic forces beyond their control? My guess is that black voters generally see in Obama what I see -- a smart, decent guy (uniquely so for a politician, on both counts) with his heart in the right place, who's been unfairly vilified and obstructed, who's nevertheless managed to get a lot of good things done (including the historic passage of health care reform, which, for me, is almost accomplishment enough for a four-year term), who would like to be able to do a good deal more, and who still represents the still almost unbelievable fact that a liberal black man (an intellectual, besides) occupies the White House and is a strong leader at home and abroad. Some of the luster may have worn off the soaring rhetoric we fell in love with in 2008, but that was inevitable, and, that rhetoric still marks him as a uniquely inspiring politician in my book, and, as far as I can tell, he has followed through on it to a remarkable degree. I can't say that Obama has done everything right, but liberal and liberal black dissatisfaction I think stems mainly from unrealistic expectations...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Case For Not Liking Obama

A big issue in U.S. presidential elections, apparently, is "likability." It's a factor easy to underestimate compared to policy positions and other matters of substance. But when I consider my own affective responses to politicians, it's obvious how much I'm affected by how I like or dislike a particular candidate, that jostling with or against considerations of substance. 

I've thought from just after he came into real public prominence how much, for reasons I have trouble articulating, I dislike Obama. That had me fervently wanting Hillary to beat him. And it poses a notional dilemma for me as I consider who I'm notionally voting for in the upcoming election. I subscribe pretty solidly to Democratic policies but my dislike inclines me notionally away from Obama and to Romney, who I genuinely like and whose policies I can live with.

Finally, I've read something, today in fact, by a good, young conservative writer, Matthew Continetti, hit piece though it is, that puts well why I don't like the guy:

....Remember when President Barack Obama was likable? Once upon a time the public viewed the incumbent more favorably than his challenger by large margins. These days Obama’s favorable and unfavorable ratings are similar to Mitt Romney’s. The televised debates have unveiled the current administration as alternately listless, manic, angry, soporific, rude, bullying, aloof, and thin-skinned. Americans who have just begun to tune into the election are seeing the president unmediated. They no longer are looking at him through the scrim of fawning press, majestic settings, and roaring crowds. And they are discovering that Obama is not so likable at all. He is actually something of a jerk.

Those who read coverage of the Obama administration closely will have known this for a long time: The president is cold, abstract, prickly, and insular. His brand of cerebral partisanship is better suited for liberal blogging than for leading the free world. He doesn’t enjoy interacting with strangers or even with associates outside his immediate clique. He has few close friends. He relies on about half a dozen senior advisers. His impromptu speech is given to cutting, sarcastic remarks.

Put him in front of an adoring and obsequious audience and he will be charming and suave. But the real Obama is revealed the second you remove the klieg lights. This isn’t a guy who will spend his post-presidency more or less running the Democratic Party, a la President Bill Clinton. Obama will spend his retirement as a solitary member of the irritable left, receiving honorary degrees, appearing on MSNBC, and scribbling for Salon.

The president’s unsociability is one of those obvious facts that are conveniently overlooked. Earlier this week Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal Center for American Progress, caused a mini-controversy when New York magazine quoted her saying, “Obama doesn’t call anyone, and he’s not close to almost anyone. It’s stunning that he’s in politics, because he really doesn’t like people.” Tanden, who has worked for Obama, later “clarified” her remarks. What she meant to say, she tweeted, was that Obama “is a private person.” Note, however, that one can be a private person and still not “like people.” Tanden did not really take back her words. Nor should she. Her initial comments were factual and honest.

A “Democrat deeply familiar” with the Clinton-Obama relationship said pretty much the same thing to Ryan Lizza a few months ago: “Obama doesn’t really like very many people.” A Chicago Democratic donor told Jane Mayer this summer, “He’s not the kind of guy I would go out and have a beer with.” “One United States diplomat” told Helene Cooper of the New York Times in September that Obama is “not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him.” That paper’s story on Valerie Jarrett, the president’s closest aide, describes Obama as “introverted” and his social circle as “small.” Michael Lewis’s profile of Obama shows a loner who broods over his decisions, spends time reading and writing and playing basketball with a tightly knit group, and says his biggest difficulty as president is “faking emotion.” His media puppets admit that the president is an emotionless “Spock.”

This combination of arrogance and detachment has been a political problem. Obama has paid a price whenever his unlikable personality has emerged in unscripted moments. There was his promise to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea in the first year of his presidency. There was the time when he told Hillary Clinton that she was “likable enough.” There was his stubborn insistence to raise taxes on capital gains and dividends even though it would raise less revenue. There was his explanation that the white working class didn’t like him because “they cling to their guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

There was his remark that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” when they arrested a Harvard professor.  There was his attack on Scott Brown for driving a pickup truck; his snide retort to John McCain that “the election’s over”; and his jibe that “shovel ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected” (which provoked laughter from his “jobs council”). This year we’ve heard Obama say “the private sector is doing fine,” that he’s “always struck by people who think, it must be because I was just so smart” that they’ve been successful, and that the attacks on our embassies across the Great Middle East were “bumps in the road” to Arab democracy. When Obama says what’s on his mind, his political team runs for the hills.

The debates have made the president’s dilemma worse. Obama has not masked his prideful contempt for Romney. He “told friends that he respected Mr. Romney’s intellect,” the Times reported, “but had come to view his rival as a less formidable adversary as he learned more about him from reading research books and watching his campaign.” He went into the first debate in Denver thinking he would end the race on October 3.

But a huge audience watched as Romney dissected the last four years and Obama responded with a mix of condescension and apathy. The president seemed always to be smirking and looking down at his notes. He barely could mount a defense of his record. He returned again and again to his vision of a fair America. But this was not enough even for his most slavish supporters. Andrew Sullivan called him “effete.” Michael Tomasky asked, “Does Obama even want to win the election?”

The first debate inaugurated a shift in the race toward Romney that hasn’t abated. And the left drew exactly the wrong lesson from it. The left believed Obama had failed because he was insufficiently rude, and the Obama campaign seems to have agreed with them. But that meant Obama was trapped. He had to be more combative, but he also had to retain his likability. Doing both was not an option. Obama chose combat, in keeping with his long-run campaign strategy of maximizing turnout among Democratic Party client groups.

So we got a Joe Biden who spoke under his breath, interrupted Paul Ryan at every turn, raised his voice, gesticulated grandly, cackled during discussions of the Iranian nuclear program, and grinned so wildly that he looked like he was channeling Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker. We got an Obama who was more engaged but also came across as angry and heated and ready to challenge Romney to a duel. We got a Democratic ticket that, per Chris Matthews’s suggestion, looks like it is auditioning to replace the Cycle on MSNBC.

Obama’s anti-Romney spirit may make for a more disagreeable and somewhat more interesting debate. Television ratings benefit. But how does it solve the weak economic recovery? How does it reassure voters looking for solutions on jobs, health care, the deficit, and energy? How does it improve the president’s image, or restore his poll numbers?

The cliché is that the more likable candidate usually wins the election. Morris Fiorina, one of my favorite political scientists, says that isn’t actually the case. Maybe. What we know for sure is what Washington has known all along: Obama doesn’t like people.

And increasingly, people don’t like him.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Obama's 2007 Video

Andy McCarthy:

...To be generous, Obama’s performance is disgusting. Cynically adopting the black dialect of the American South, a dialect utterly alien to him, he demagogues against Washington’s supposedly selective waivers of the Stafford Act — legislation that requires communities hit by disasters to match 10 percent of federal aid. They waived it for 9/11, he tells the crowd, and they waived it when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida: Those communities were allowed to keep their one dollar for every ten federal dollars. But when he comes to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the largely African-American population of New Orleans, Obama implies that Congress refused the waiver: “What’s happenin’ down in New O’leans? Where’s yo’ dollar? Where’s yo’ Stafford Act money? . . . Tells me that somehow the people down in New O’leans they don’t care about as much.”
In fact, ten days before Obama gave that speech, Congress had waived the Stafford Act requirement for Katrina. He was well aware of that fact, too. After all, he was one of only 14 senators to vote against the waiver. It was part of a bill to fund the war effort in Iraq. That is, to pander to his Bush-deranged, anti-war base, Obama decided that squeezing New O’leans was a price worth paying. Then, he lied about what happened in order to foment racial resentment — an atmosphere that he calculated would help his presidential bid...

The Perpetual Failure to Understand Obama's Double Consciousness