Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stephen Walt on Obama's "comeback"

I don't consider myself a fan of the Realist foreign policy school. But one big advantage of the perspective of an [ue]ber-Realist like Stephen Walt is that is that he makes a real effort to avoid being caught up in the TV carnvial we still quaintly call "journalism".

In Why Obama's health-care victory won't make him stronger Foreign Policy 02/22/10, he writes:

Will yesterday’s passage of health-care reform give a positive jolt to U.S. foreign policy? Is Obama the new “comeback kid,” with new clout at home and a more formidable hand to play abroad? Will he now pivot from domestic affairs to foreign policy and achieve a dazzling set of diplomatic victories? My answers: no, no, and no.

As others have noted before, journalists and commentators find it easy to rely on an essentially narrative style of analysis. It’s easy to tell a story largely in terms of day-to-day events and process, and to frame it all in terms of the rise or fall of different personalities. First Obama can do no wrong, then he’s a failed president, then suddenly he bounces back and is a transformational figure once again. Or Rahm is in, then he’s out, then’s he bigger than ever. Pelosi is dismissed, then she’s hated, then she’s ineffectual, and then suddenly she’s vindicated and revered. Analyzing politics in this way is certainly exciting, but it's not very informative. It also creates the sense that political fortunes are always swinging wildly back and forth, instead of stepping back and looking for the larger structural forces that are shaping events and constraining voices.
Walt isn't flakking for the Republicans here. His point is that the economy is still in bad shape and that's likely to cost the Democrats seats in November. I can't say I entirely agree with Walt's analysis in that post. But he has an excellent point about our press corps drama queens of both sexes.

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