Monday, November 30, 2009


While Politico waits for the news cycle to start up again in earnest, it's giving us this as its lead story: the main anti-Obama narratives the right and anti-Obama centrists want to advance, all conveniently collected in one place under the heading "7 Stories Obama Doesn't Want Told."

I'm struck by what's not on the list, which includes many of the old favorites: "He thinks he’s playing with Monopoly money"; "Too much Leonard Nimoy"; "That’s the Chicago Way"; "He’s a pushover"; "He sees America as another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe"; "President Pelosi"; and "He’s in love with the man in the mirror." Most of these are old right and centrist chestnuts -- he's too free-spending, his people are thugs ("Chicago Way"), he's a wimp ("pushover") -- and yes, Harris does note that the latter two seem a tad contradictory, but liberal and Democrats are always accused of being both supervillains capable of destroying Western civilization with a few lawyerly subterfuges and wussy girly-men who should leave politics and stick to flower-arranging and poodle-walking. ("President Pelosi" is probably the only puzzler, but it's a variant on "pushover" -- i.e., that Nurse Ratched Nancy wears the pants in the Obama-era Democratic Party, and is accomplishing more than Obama himself).

So what's missing here? What anti-Obama narrative does Harris skip? Well, it's the one that says Obama cares more about Wall Street than Main Street. It's the one that says he's utterly dropped the ball on the economic recovery with regard to the needs of ordinary citizens.

Now, see, I'd put that one under "Too much Leonard Nimoy," but Harris doesn't. Here's what he writes:

People used to make fun of Bill Clinton's misty-eyed, raspy-voiced claims that, "I feel your pain."

The reality, however, is that Clinton’s dozen years as governor before becoming president really did leave him with a vivid sense of the concrete human dimensions of policy. He did not view programs as abstractions -- he viewed them in terms of actual people he knew by name.

With that as a lead-in, you'd think Harris was going in a Paul Krugman/Bob Herbert direction. Heavens, no:

Obama, a legislator and law professor, is fluent in describing the nuances of problems. But his intellectuality has contributed to a growing critique that decisions are detached from rock-bottom principles.

Both Maureen Dowd in The New York Times and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post have likened him to Star Trek's Mr. Spock.

The Spock imagery has been especially strong during the extended review Obama has undertaken of Afghanistan policy. He'll announce the results on Tuesday. The speech's success will be judged not only on the logic of the presentation but on whether Obama communicates in a more visceral way what progress looks like and why it is worth achieving. No soldier wants to take a bullet in the name of nuance.

I suppose Harris could also be thinking of the suffering of the unemployed and the underwater -- but the fact that he can't even get himself to mention those people tells you that this is a pure right and right-centrist critique. No populism, please -- we're the Village! The real worry with regard to Obama's deliberateness is Afghanistan, dammit -- he's not a steely-eyed rocket man! That's what we need! That's what America wants!

Actually, America wants us to get the hell out of Afghanistan, but never mind. What America wants is a steely-eyed scourge of the rich and friend to the afflicted. But that's not a narrative Obama has to fear because it's coming only from members of the Great Unwashed -- and not the ones reading from scripts written by Dick Armey. Who cares about those people?

Harris's article is Dowd-like, and he invokes Dowd herself, but even she got closer to the real problem with Obama as the general public sees it when (in her November 21 column) she talked about his reluctance to embrace the visceral:

...Obama so values pragmatism, and is so immersed in the thorny details of legislative compromises, that he may be undervaluing the connective bonds of simpler truths.

Americans who are hurting get angry when they learn that Timothy Geithner, as head of the New York Fed before becoming Treasury secretary, caved to the insistence of Goldman Sachs and other A.I.G. trading partners that they get 100 cents on the dollar when he could have struck a far better bargain for taxpayers....

Dowd then goes on to talk about Afghanistan in this context -- and that's what Harris picked up on. Not the bread-and-butter stuff. Because, in his world, that doesn't matter.

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