Well, now, that didn’t take long, did it? Less than two months into Barack Obama’s presidency and the doubters are already coming out of the woodwork – among them several big-name pundits who, just an hour or two ago (or so it seems) were still in full swoon mode for the Miracle Man sent to lift and cleanse us from the hellish Bush-Cheney miasma.
Newsweek’s Howard Fineman may have got the ball rolling when he wrote on March 10 that “in ways both large and small, what’s left of the American establishment is taking [Obama’s] measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking.” The blasphemy having been uttered, albeit ever so meekly, other worshipers began putting down their hymnals and singing a new, more skeptical tune.
In a column titled “Obama Needs to Discover His Inner Dirty Harry,” Bloomberg.com’s very liberal Margaret Carlson wrote, “It’s up to the new sheriff in town to put things right…. Unfortunately, it’s hard to scare the bad guys when your new Treasury secretary comes across like Barney Fife…. The new team took over with a whimper, not a bang.”
Meanwhile, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift – yes, that Eleanor Clift, for two decades the resident screeching liberal of “The McLaughlin Group,” incapable of uttering a good word for Republicans or a bad one for Democrats – asked in an online column, “Who would have thought that 55 days into this administration we would be asking the question, what did he know and when did he know it? Word that a provision in the stimulus bill gave the green light for AIG to hand out bonuses using taxpayer money sent the media bloodhounds hot on the trail of whoever is the culprit…. President Obama likes to remind voters that he inherited a mess, and that’s true, but this one is of his own making.”
And then there was Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter who during the campaign never made a secret of her soft spot for candidate Obama, now suddenly complaining in The Wall Street Journal that the president “is willowy when people yearn for solid, reed-like when they hope for substantial, a bright older brother when they want Papa, cool where they probably prefer warmth…. Isaiah Berlin famously suggested a leader is a fox or a hedgehog. The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. In political leadership the hedgehog has certain significant advantages, focus and clarity among them. Most presidents are one or the other. So far Mr. Obama seems neither.”
Some of the sharpest words came form Vanity Fair’s media columnist Michael Wolff, who on his Newser.com blog delivered the ultimate insult to a Democratic president: “Sheesh, the guy is Jimmy Carter.”
Wolff continued, reacting to Obama’s appearance on the “Tonight” show, where he was feted by a typically craven Jay Leno: “The guy just doesn’t know what to say. He can’t connect. Emotions are here, he’s over there. He can’t get the words to match the situation…. He’s cold … he’s uncomfortable; he’s not funny; and he’s getting awfully tedious…. So Jimmy. It’s instructive and humorous to remember that Carter ran a brilliant campaign that succeeded largely because his voice was new. Simple, direct, basic, human. And then, of course, he turned into a sad-sack twit.”
Obama’s approval rating remains strong – though as pollsters Douglas Schoen and Scott Rasmussen noted in a March 12 Wall Street Journal op-ed column, his numbers are actually lower than George W. Bush’s at a similar point in his presidency in 2001.
But the polls indicate, wrote David Warren in The Ottawa Sun, that Obama “had better start selling his policies harder, because they are showing signs of not going over very well.”
Especially, added Warren, since “the unpolled elites, including those within the Democratic Party, have started to ask questions aloud about whether their man is competent; and as we know from painful history, such uncertainties from an elite tend to ‘trickle down.’”
Back in June 1993, just five months into his presidency, a miniaturized Bill Clinton (the media’s anointed candidate in the 1992 campaign) appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Above him, seemingly pushing him off the page, were the words, in huge type, “The Incredible Shrinking President.” Would-be saviors turn fallible all too quickly.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org