Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Elizabeth Drew on Obama's problems with the voters (and the Villagers)

Elizabeth Drew rarely steps far outside the bounds of Beltway Village consensus. But her political analyses are definitely better than the average for the Village.

In her essay In the Bitter New Washington New York Review of Books 11/22/2010 (12/23/2010 issue), she looks cautiously at the political trends and what they portend for the political movement that brought Obama to the Presidency in 2008 and how the Obama Administration itself contributed to the 2010 electoral outcome.

Drew warns against overinterpretation of the 2010 elections, or, better, against careless interpretations. One worrisome factor she mentions is the number of older voters who turned to the Republicans believing they would defend Medicare, a result of their demagoguery during the health care reform debate. Her article has several journalistic observations that caught my eye, like the fact that Joe Biden "was virtually shut out of the dealings with people in Congress in the first two years." She doesn't come to any firm conclusions, though the picture of a President too seriously isolated from his base as well as the larger public comes through. But her essay is also flawed by annoying lapses into Village trivia and the occasional stock Republican-friendly canards, such as the supposedly "common complaint about the Obama White House in the first two years has been that there were no 'grown-ups' around." Remember back in 2000-1 when the Cheney-Bush Administration were "putting the grown-ups back in charge"? Still, it is a well-informed and informative piece by an analyst who actually can read polls and relate policies to politics, and does both in this article.

Sadly, the Village touch shows up in Drew's piece. She says of Republican leaders declining a meeting in the White House - as Jerry Brown also did just last week - "this just isn't done". You can almost here the gasp in her voice. Here we see her indulging the Villagers' pathetic social obsessions about parties:

Last year, a friend of mine was invited to a Hanukkah party that the Obamas gave for prominent Jews (a group with whom there had been tensions), and after the Obamas descended the grand stairway, they stood in the foyer briefly, the President made a few remarks and shook a few hands, and back up the stairs they went. No mingling.
And this could have come from Maureen Dowd or Gail Collins:

In their first two years, the Obamas have seemed a bit tone-deaf: there were too many vacations while people were hurting, especially Michelle's extravagant trip to Spain. (I'm as interested in Michelle’s clothes as the next woman but at the same time think she and her staff are too focused on her looking smashing, which she does. Her wardrobe seems quite extensive for these troubled times.) [my emphasis]
I don't recall seeing even a single poll saying that for either women or men, their opinion of Michelle Obama's wardrobe played even the tiniest role in their vote in 2010. But for the Villagers, these things are very important.

But even though she puts it in the context of manners, I actually think she has a point in the following. And it's been a real problem, by no means limited to Village social events:

Barack Obama's personality has been much mulled over in the past two years, but it seems inescapable that his high self-esteem often slides over the thin line to arrogance, which trickles down (with some exceptions) to much of his staff, some of whom are downright rude to all but a chosen few. Obama has seemed uninterested in anyone but his immediate group, and three of the four members of his immediate circle — Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod — had had no experience in governing. The fourth, Rahm Emanuel, expressed himself with such flippancy, arrogance, and overuse of the F-word that he offended not just members of Congress but also would-be allies of the President.
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