Obama’s Pundit Problem – Eric Alterman

Excerpts from: http://www.thenation.com/article/179733/obamas-pundit-problem

Pundit Problem

Critics like Maureen Dowd of the Times live in an
Oz-like dream world.

Eric Alterman

May 7, 2014   |

It’s hard
to say that Maureen Dowd’s column is an embarrassment to political punditry
given the state of the profession, but it is rapidly becoming one to the
still-great newspaper that carries it, The New York Times.

To take
just one example, on April 30 Dowd penned a juvenile and intellectually
incoherent column
, obnoxiously headlined Is
Barry Whiffing? In it, she eschewed any form of evidence or common sense
to give voice to the now-platitudinous Beltway belief that Obama should just
fix everything already.
This view has come to be known as the “Green Lantern
theory” of presidential power, after the comic book superhero; according to
this theory, the reason Obama has not been more successful is that he has
failed to bring Congress to heel the way superior leaders like Lyndon Johnson
and Ronald Reagan did during their presidencies, through sheer force of will. ……………………………………………………….

There is
certainly no place like the one these pundits imagine Obama to be living in—one
in which the likes of Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Mitch McConnell, Ted
Cruz and Eric Cantor can be forced to behave responsibly by presidential fiat.
But Dowd, like so much of the punditocracy, writes as if she lives in just such
an Oz-like dream world. Here she is, for instance, discussing Republican
recalcitrance, which, naturally, she blames on Obama (as if those flying
monkeys were Dorothy’s fault): “It is his job to get them to behave. The job of
the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this
dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants
them to do. It’s called leadership.”

it’s called fantasy, but this view has become so common in the mainstream media
that the White House Correspondents’ Association should probably have given out
an award for it last week at its nauseating “nerd prom.” (Call it “The
Broder.”) That this fantasy has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked—most
recently by Norm Ornstein in The National Journal, who noted that “LBJ
and Reagan had willing partners from the opposite party; Obama has had
—has made no impression on the pundit corps, whose prejudices Dowd distills
in her columns.

In that
same column, Dowd, addressing the president, writes, “It doesn’t feel like
leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world,” and
instructs Obama on the dos and don’ts of proper presidential etiquette, based
apparently on her memorization of a pile of old Aaron Sorkin scripts:

“ …………………………………………………………………………………………

To help
her overcome her scary vibes, Dowd turns to the ultimate pundit cliché, the
baseball metaphor. Telling the president to “stop whiffing,” she writes: “An
American president should never say… ‘You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every
once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run’…. What happened to crushing
it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?” (If Dowd’s
editors did not apparently hate her guts, one of them might have let her know
that the Bambino “whiffed” fully 1,330 times during his career, or nearly twice
for every home run he hit.)

along the sports spectrum, Dowd instructs Obama to “take a lesson from Adam
Silver, a nerdy technocrat who, in his first big encounter with a crazed
tyrant, managed to make the job of N.B.A. commissioner seem much more powerful
than that of president of the United States.” (Note the use of the journalistic
weasel word “seem” here, used almost always when no evidence is present to back
up a journalistic complaint.) Does Dowd believe that a president somehow has
the power to fine Bashar al-Assad and/or Vladimir Putin $2.5 million and ban
them from their respective positions for life?

By way of
fair-minded expert sources, Dowd consults that disinterested observer, Mike
Murphy, while failing to note that his résumé includes stints as a campaign
strategist and media consultant for both John McCain and Mitt Romney. Murphy
helpfully explains that being president is “not like the campaign because you
have ‘bigger problems than a will.i.am song can fix.’” Next comes the surest
sign one can find that Dowd was facing a deadline without knowing how to fill
her 800-word quota: a shout-out to her buddy, New Republic literary
editor Leon Wieseltier
, who was making, by my count (according to the columns
available on NYTimes.com), his thirty-third appearance as the equivalent of a
Team Maureen relief pitcher.

What does
the great man
(whom David Brooks also saw fit to quote in his own column a few
days later) advise? Apparently, the “oppressed and threatened swaths of the
world are jittery and despairing ‘because the United States seems no longer
reliable in emergencies….’” (Note again the weasel word “seems.”) Nowhere,
alas, does Dowd appear to have inquired how Wieseltier sourced his scoop
regarding the feelings of the world’s “oppressed and threatened swaths,” nor
what these otherwise voiceless billions would like Obama to do to end the
violence in, say, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the US House of Representatives.

There’s no place like Washington…

 Read the article: http://www.thenation.com/article/179733/obamas-pundit-problem

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