“He Can’t Take Another Bow”, Peggy Noon writes, adding that such a gesture is now officially “An icon of a White House that is coming to seem amateurish.” Coming? I’d say it reached that point right around the time “the Office of the President-Elect” set-up shop, but as Adolphe Menjou said in Paths of Glory, let’s not quibble over fractions. Anyhow, here’s Peggy:
From journalist Elizabeth Drew, a veteran and often sympathetic chronicler of Democratic figures, a fiery denunciation of—and warning for—the White House. In a piece in Politico on the firing of White House counsel Greg Craig, Ms. Drew reports that while the president was in Asia last week, “a critical mass of influential people who once held big hopes for his presidency began to wonder whether they had misjudged the man.” They once held “an unromantically high opinion of Obama,” and were key to his rise, but now they are concluding that the president isn’t “the person of integrity and even classiness they had thought.”
She scored “the Chicago crowd,” which she characterized as “a distressingly insular and small-minded West Wing team.” The White House, Ms. Drew says, needs adult supervision—”an older, wiser head, someone with a bit more detachment.”
As I read Ms. Drew’s piece, I was reminded of something I began noticing a few months ago in bipartisan crowds. I would ask Democrats how they thought the president was doing. In the past they would extol, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, his virtues. Increasingly, they would preface their answer with, “Well, I was for Hillary.” This in turn reminded me of a surprising thing I observe among loyal Democrats in informal settings and conversations: No one loves Barack Obama. Half the American people say they support him, and Democrats are still with him. But there were Bill Clinton supporters who really loved him. George W. Bush had people who loved him. A lot of people loved Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. But no one seems to love Mr. Obama now; they’re not dazzled and head over heels. That’s gone away. He himself seems a fairly chilly customer; perhaps in turn he inspires chilly support. But presidents need that rock—bottom 20% who, no matter what’s happening—war, unemployment—adore their guy, have complete faith in him, and insist that you love him, too.
They’re the hard 20 a president always keeps. Nixon kept them! Obama probably has a hard 20 too, but whatever is keeping them close, it doesn’t seem to be love.
Just as stinging as Elizabeth Drew on domestic matters was Leslie Gelb on Mr. Obama and foreign policy in the Daily Beast. Mr. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and fully plugged into the Democratic foreign-policy establishment, wrote this week that the president’s Asia trip suggested “a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” The president’s Afghanistan review has been “inexcusably clumsy,” Mideast negotiations have been “fumbling.” So unsuccessful was the trip that Mr. Gelb suggested Mr. Obama take responsibility for it “as President Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs.”
He added that rather than bowing to emperors—Mr. Obama “seems to do this stuff spontaneously and inexplicably”—he should begin to bow to “the voices of experience” in Washington.
When longtime political observers start calling for wise men, a president is in trouble.
Tough to go looking for wise men when the grown-up party is out of power. Still, there’s always this prescient liberal elder statesman.
(If Bruce Springsteen doesn’t want the gig.)