Politico has one of those 10,000 Harris/VandeHei word what-does-it-all-mean pieces about the Obama presidency. These pieces are often revolting, but IMHO, their piece in May/June 2008 (I can’t find it by google search) on how Hillary had no chance was one of the most sensible pieces on the 2008 campaign (which admittedly isn’t saying much). I think their take on Obama is reasonably accurate:
The imminent passage of financial reform, just a couple months after the passage of comprehensive health care, should decisively end the narrative that President Obama represents a Jimmy Carter-style case of naïve hope crushed by the inability to master Washington.
Yet the mystery remains: Having moved swiftly toward achieving the very policy objectives he promised voters as a candidate, Obama is still widely perceived as flirting with a failed presidency.[…..]
The problem is that he and his West Wing turn out to be not especially good at politics, or communications — in other words, largely ineffective at the very things on which their campaign reputation was built. And the promises he made in two years of campaigning turn out to be much less appealing as actual policies.
I think it’s a bit silly to conclude that the Obama administration is bad at politics (as opposed to passing bills), given that Obama’s approval rating is higher (eye-balling the numbers, about 3-4 points higher) than Reagan’s was at the same point of his presidency, in midst of an economy that is at least as bad as that of 1982. Reagan is, for better or worse (and I would say worse, of course), the dominant figure in American politics of the past 30 years, as Tom Schaller capably explain here. I can’t see how doing a little better than Reagan under equally tough or tougher circumstances makes the Obama administration bad at politics.
That said, I think the Politico piece is pretty good and I think this observation explains a lot of what is going on in terms of Obama media coverage:
In what would surprise media critics outside Washington, many reporters don’t much like Obama or his gang either. They accurately perceive the contempt with which they are held by his White House, an attitude that undoubtedly flows from the top. Insults and blustery non-responses, f-bombs flying, are common in how West Wing aides speak to reporters.
In a transactional city like Washington, personal relations usually only matter at the margins. But in a poor political climate those margins can be important, and there’s no mistaking that across the capital there are many people who seem to be enjoying the president’s travails, and cheering whenever he takes a cream pie to the face.
Update. Greg Sargent is right that the Politico analysis of liberal bloggers is dumb. I have to confess that my lack of interest in what Politico thinks about liberal bloggers made me skip over it when I read the article.