Friday, May 28, 2010


Peggy Noonan writes today,

I don't see how the president's position and popularity can survive the oil spill.

She writes this because she thinks the oil spill is his Katrina -- a crisis that's seen by the public as a presidential misstep (true in both cases) and that sums up what the public doesn't like about the president (so far, not true in Obama's case).

Noonan doesn't she the differences, because her blinkered view of Bush won't allow her to:

This is what happened with Katrina, and Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn't like about the Bush administration, everything it didn't like about two wars and high spending and illegal immigration, and brought those strands into a heavy knot that just sat there, soggily, and came to symbolize Bushism. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. Conservatives got this point -- they know it without being told -- but liberals and progressives did not. They thought Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush's incompetence and conservatives' failure to "believe in government." But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.

There's a grain of truth in this, but it's wrong in so many other ways that I seriously wonder if Noonan's short-term memory is neurologically impaired. More likely she's choosing not to remember, and imposing Fox News talking points on her memories. We were worried about immigration and spending in 2005? No, we weren't -- immigration wasn't on the radar of anyone other than the usual seal-the-borders crowd (i.e., Noonan's crowd) until Bush put it on the agenda sometime later, and we weren't allowed to care about spending, because Republicans ran the entire government and therefore deficits didn't matter.

The issues we'd been concerned about in the second term were the wars (primarily Iraq), as well as Social Security privatization and Terri Schiavo. Noonan's Catholic conservatism won't allow her to recall the public's take on the Schiavo case, and her handwringing about deficits that barely troubled her in the Bush years is just a recitation of the hottest right-wing talking point. She doesn't even remember the war situation properly -- we didn't think of it as a problem of big government, for crissakes, we thought of it as a massive cock-up by cowboy incompetents.

That's how Katrina crystallized our sense of Bush -- we called him a cowboy, by which we meant he combined cultural conservatism with a what-me-worry? demeanor and an inability to knuckle down to tasks that required sitting at a desk and actually absorbing information. Katrina on our TVs looked a hell of a lot like Iraq: people dying and Bush grinning -- grinning with no apparent clue about how to stop people from dying.

Whatever Barack Obama may have done wrong, or may seem to have done wrong, in the present circumstance, his shortcomings don't really match most people's impression of him. His biggest haters describe a fascist juggernaut -- all our freedoms are being relentlessly and efficiently mowed down. So where's the merciless efficience of the Thug Machine now?

Even centrists see Obama as a guy doing big things -- the health care bill (whether they like it or not), financial reform, stimulus, bailouts. They may think he messes up, but they don't see him as helpless. So this would have to change their impression of him.

Obama's at risk if the economy never turns around, if health care reform doesn't improve people's lives, if there's a serious act of domestic terrorism (Republicans won't rally around him as Democrats rallied around Bush). Then this spill might seem like a metaphor for his presidency. But not now. He's not helpless. It's right-wingers more than anyone else who keep telling us he's anything but helpless.

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