Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I'm somewhat reluctant to get into the latest squabble in the lefty blogosphere, but I'm struck by the fact that both sides, for all their differences, seem to agree on one thing: the president of the United States is incapable of error or failure.

Ezra Klein:

What could Obama have done?

...I've spent a lot of time thinking about ways in which the past few years could have gone differently. I've even come up with a few. But none of them lead to dramatically better outcomes today.

... I've never been able to come up with a realistic scenario in which a lot more got done, the economy is in much better shape, and the president is dramatically more popular today.

...But perhaps I'm missing something obvious. If you have a realistic vision for what an actual president operating in the American political system could have done differently, leave it in comments.

In fact, Klein thinks that Obama's accomplishments as president exceed 100% of what reasonably could have been expected of him:

Indeed, if you had taken me aside in 2008 and sketched out the first three years of Obama’s presidency, I would have thought you were being overoptimistic: an $800 billion stimulus package -- recall that people were only talking in the $200-$300 billion range back then -- followed by near-universal health-care reform, followed by financial regulation, followed by another stimulus (in the 2010 tax deal), followed by the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell," followed by the killing of Osama bin Laden and the apparent ousting of Moammar Gaddafi? There was no way. And yet all that did get done.

In opposition to Klein are the deliberatists, led by Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher, whose point of view is summarized by Matt Yglesias:

What an awful lot of people seem to do, however, is look at alleged mistakes early in the administration, assume that they weren't mistakes, reach the conclusion that this proves Obama's nefarious intent, and then assume that absent nefarious intent Obama would be accomplishing tons of awesome new stuff right now.

Either way, the president, we're told, is getting everything he wants that he can possibly get -- he's not failing, he's not falling short, he doesn't lack any negotiating skills or messaging skills or political skills. He's the complete package. He is LeBron.

I look at Klein, Greenwald, and Hamsher and see three people who've taken a trivial enterprise -- blogging -- much further than they probably expected to. Their posts routinely drive debates; they hold forth regularly on TV. In their world, they're successes. And yet at the same time they're powerless -- their entire focus is on the people who run the political system, while they just talk about it.

So it's as if they can't imagine any ability other than absolute ability, any power other than absolute power. They can't seem to imagine that the president might have fallen short in some ways, might have done more (even just a bit more) if he had more skill. To them, that's not possible.

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