Obama and His Enemies

Rolling Stone has become quite the force in political journalism.

First there were the magazine’s revelations about Stanley McChrystal, which ended up costing the general his job. Now Obama has decided to use an interview with editor and founder Jann Wenner as a vehicle for administering a tongue-lashing to his base.

Here’s the scolding:

It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election…The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible. ... People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up.

No doubt Obama sees himself  akin to a coach at halftime when the team is down in the score, talking tough to the players to motivate them. But he is not a coach; he is actually the star player. And voters are not team members, they are observers who don’t like what they see.

But don’t take my word for it; listen to some voices on the left,  including David Dayen, who writes:

…I’ve never seen a politician run an election with the message “Don’t be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me.”… There’s a reason that strategy has never been employed: because it’s so insane to think that open berating would inspire a voter to action.

What’s more, Obama’s comments were an unforced error. He was not responding to anything Wenner was asking. Obama’s remarks were thrown in after the end of the interview, when he had already left the Oval Office and then felt inexplicably inspired to return to add them. It’s a bit like the last ski run of the day, when a person is tired and likely to fall and really should go back to the lodge, but instead decides to take “just one more.” It can lead to disaster.

Most of Wenner’s questions were set-ups, of the type Obama has grown accustomed to for most of his public life: “When did you realize that the Republicans had abandoned any real effort to work with you and create bipartisan policy?” “How do you feel about the fact that day after day, there's this really destructive attack on whatever you propose? Does that bother you?”

If a succession of softball questions like that are the sort of grilling Obama has come to expect from a free press, it might explain the depth of his antipathy to Fox News, and his inability to resist the opportunity to bash it -- an opportunity that Wenner afforded him when he asked Obama: “What do you think of Fox News? Do you think it's a good institution for America and for democracy?”

In a way, the question was an easy one. And had Obama stuck to the first sentence of his answer -- “Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press” -- he probably would have scored points on all sides.