Tuesday, July 20, 2010

If Only Richard Cohen Would Pay Attention

Richard Cohen rarely writes anything of interest, and today's phoned-in column is not actually a departure from the norm. Cohen asks the rhetorical question, "Who is Barack Obama", and pretends that he has no way of knowing. And perhaps that's true - of him. But for goodness sake,
He went for health-care reform, not jobs. He supported the public option, then he didn't. He's been cold to Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu and then all over him like a cheap suit.
Those three "observations" tell us a lot more about Cohen than they do about President Obama. First, although he can reasonably be faulted (particularly in retrospect) for not pursuing a larger stimulus bill, it somehow zipped right above Cohen's head that the Obama Administration did pay attention to jobs - but for a variety of reasons, mostly practical, settled on a stimulus bill that was "merely" enormous instead of gargantuan. The Wall Street Journal was quick to whine,
The House bill is one of the largest single stimulus packages in history, almost equal to the entire cost of annual federal spending under Congress's discretion. A parallel Senate measure, which is expected to come to a vote next week, is now valued at nearly $900 billion.

Either bill, if enacted, would push the federal debt toward levels not seen since the second World War.
How did Cohen manage to miss that?

Second, those who were paying attention never had much cause to believe that President Obama was going to throw his weight behind a public option. Sure, in his hundreds of statements on healthcare reform, he suggested that he supported it... once or twice. But the rest of the time his support seemed at best anemic. Moreover, if Cohen believes that Obama's approval rating is where it is due to the absence of a public option in the healthcare reform bill, he's... not paying attention.

I doubt that there are many Americans who much care whether President Obama likes Netanyahu, or think's he's pond scum. As I recall, Clinton pretty much detested Netanyahu, but at times played smiley-face with him in public and remained popular.

Cohen's a personification of the Peter Principle. If he could escape his bubble long enough to read, for example, Dan Larison, he would find that the dots that elude him were long ago identified and connected by others. It may be disappointing when Obama follows conventional thinking, but there's nothing surprising about it.

Beyond that, Cohen's is the sort of column that Paul Krugman just called out.
The latest hot political topic is the “Obama paradox” — the supposedly mysterious disconnect between the president’s achievements and his numbers. The line goes like this: The administration has had multiple big victories in Congress, most notably on health reform, yet President Obama’s approval rating is weak. What follows is speculation about what’s holding his numbers down: He’s too liberal for a center-right nation. No, he’s too intellectual, too Mr. Spock, for voters who want more passion. And so on.

But the only real puzzle here is the persistence of the pundit delusion, the belief that the stuff of daily political reporting — who won the news cycle, who had the snappiest comeback — actually matters.

This delusion is, of course, most prevalent among pundits themselves, but it’s also widespread among political operatives. And I’d argue that susceptibility to the pundit delusion is part of the Obama administration’s problem.

What political scientists, as opposed to pundits, tell us is that it really is the economy, stupid.
You would have to be pretty darn stupid not to recognize that, even if more people found Ronald Reagan to be likable than say the same about President Obama, his approval ratings followed the economy. Or you would have to be Richard Cohen. One or the other....

Update: It occurs to me that in past columns Cohen has inadvertently highlighted the reasons for his disdain for President Obama. "He didn't pay me sufficient homage during the campaign," and "He doesn't understand how important I am."

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