Pundits Begin to Worry About Obama
In the aftermath of Barack Obama's overseas trip, the liberal punditocracy has begun to fret. Certainly there is reason for concern. Obama's poll numbers are within the margin of error in a year in which a generic Democrat would be beating a generic Republican by double digits. And the storylines which dominated the news since the trip have been ones unfavorable to their chosen candidate: his ego, the snub of wounded U.S. soldiers in Germany, a potential flip-flop on offshore drilling and a poorly received attempt to play the race card.
Richard Cohen was one liberal pundit who emerged from the fog of Obama-mania. Cohen threw cold water on the notion that a liberal Senate candidate from Hyde Park showed political courage by opposing the Iraq war, and then recited chapter and verse on the flip-flop orgy:
He has been for and against gun control, against and for the recent domestic surveillance legislation and, in almost a single day, for a united Jerusalem under Israeli control and then, when apprised of U.S. policy and Palestinian chagrin, against it. He is an accomplished pol -- a statement of both admiration and a bit of regret.
But what really irked Cohen was Obama's "tissue thin" record and the nagging sense that despite Obama's attractive packaging Cohen was "still not sure, though, what's in it."
After reviewing the New York Times' examination of Obama's career as a law lecturer, Marcus mused that it was "a reminder of Obama's essential elusiveness, and how little we understand about how the candidate himself would resolve these thorny problems." What nagged her was the sense that "in the hardest cases, I'm not always sure where Professor Obama, or President Obama for that matter, comes down."
Over at Huffington Post a prominent liberal voice fretted that maybe the Left's faith in Obama was overblown and as misplaced as the belief (before the blue dress) that Bill Clinton had not had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
And of course all this followed the rage from the Left over the appalling (to them) reversal on FISA and the disgust over Obama's decision to renege on his public financing pledge (which was then followed by his ludicrous effort to blame the Republicans for his mendacity).
But Dana Millbank really opened the floodgates with a devastating column on Obama's enormous ego and arrogance. Dubbing Obama the "presumptuous nominee," Millbank described Obama's visit to Capitol Hill:
Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president's. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him. . . Some say the supremely confident Obama -- nearly 100 days from the election, he pronounces that "the odds of us winning are very good" -- has become a president-in-waiting. But in truth, he doesn't need to wait: He has already amassed the trappings of the office, without those pesky decisions. . . "I think this can be an incredible election," Obama said later. "I look forward to collaborating with everybody here to win the election." Win the election? Didn't he do that already?
For those who had been following Obama's arrogant utterances and embarrassing show of presumptuousness this was nothing new. But coming from the pen of the acerbic columnist (whose vitriol is usually reserved for conservatives), Millbank's column was a shocker.
Over at Slate, Melinda Henneberger on the XX Factor blog was irate that Obama was "selling out on offshore drilling." And just as when he reneged on public campaign financing, his excuse was the worst part. Henneberger wrote:
"The Republicans and the oil companies have been really beating the drums on drilling," Obama said in the interview. Which might give voters the impression that anyone who beats the drums loud enough and long enough will get this same "Alright already!'' response out of him. And it might give those young voters he is counting on the idea that he's not only not as different as they thought...but maybe, just not different enough."
And then others chimed in. The New Republic editors worried that somehow Obama's economic message isn't working and Obama isn't making the most of his chances. They write:
"Yet, somehow, despite all this, McCain remains in the game. This is not easy to explain -- and it should cause a great deal of introspection at Obama headquarters. For all the many ways that the stars have aligned for Obama, he has yet to take full advantage of what historically has been a great opportunity."
The bottom line: liberal pundits -- following months of analysis by their conservative counterparts -- had figured out that despite the best possible terrain for the Democrats to recapture the White House, the Democrats (with a whole lot of cheerleading from the mainstream media) have chosen a thinly experienced, irresolute, underachieving and obnoxious standard bearer. And his excuse-mongering just makes it all the more irritating.
It is not clear what provoked the soul-searching or why reality didn't dawn on the pundits sooner. After all, they knew all along that he had virtually no experience and that he often sounded bizarrely confident about his nonexistent credentials.
Some might conclude that they were so blinded by their bias against Hillary Clinton and eagerness to shove the Clintons off the national stage that they ignored any signs that The Chosen One was deeply flawed. And, indeed, many of the faults that are potentially so dangerous in Obama -- his predilection to lie when the heat is on and his lack of core principles -- were even greater liabilities for Clinton in the media's eyes.
It is also true that the McCain camp has shamed the media into recognizing their infatuation with Obama. By mocking the press, the McCain camp has made the argument in convincing fashion that the mainstream media has been in the tank for Obama. The McCain camp's message: "Your boosterism has become painfully obvious." So it's not surprising that there might be some course correction and recognition that they've gone too far in building up The Ego and concealing his flaws.
But Obama has done his share to lift the veil from the pundits' eyes. Sometimes the accumulated evidence is too much even for the mainstream media to ignore. And it is ironic (but not altogether surprising) that the tipping point may have been the Berlin rally -- an explosion of ego and meaningless rhetoric which attained the level of self-parody.
Moreover, there is nothing that irritates the media more than a hypocrite. So the temptation is great to point out that the New Politics looks an awful lot like the Old Politics of flip-flopping, broken promises, lack of accountability, and fudging the facts.
It remains an open question whether the punditocracy has really begun a course correction in assessing Obama or is simply evidencing a mild bout of remorse for its own excesses.
But the question of whether Obama could forever retain his Teflon coating and stifle concerns about serious weaknesses in his record and character has been answered. The answer we have learned, from liberal pundits no less, is a resounding "no."