NOT A BAD ‘REPORT CARD’…. Jonathan Zasloff described Mark Halperin’s “Report Card on Obama’s First Year” as the “most vapid, smug, and inane commentary that has come out of the Village in a long time — and that’s a high bar.”
So, naturally, I had to read it.
Halperin, striving for balance, lists five things the president is doing “better than you realize,” and five things the president is doing “worse than you think.” These are bigger-picture observations from 10,000 feet — it’s not scrutiny about what Obama did or didn’t do to make the public option more appealing to Joe Lieberman.
The five areas of praise are fairly compelling — Halperin notes that the president has been wise to let Congress do a lot of “heavy lifting” on policymaking, has been adept at handling foreign-policy challenges, has effectively steered clear of scandals, has remained focused on “long-term strategy,” and has been effective at taking unilateral action (through, for example, executive orders).
So far, so good. It’s the more critical areas where Halperin’s analysis runs into trouble.
Nearly all of the five criticisms are superficial — for example, he criticizes the president for neglecting to “neutralize some of the more poisonous, potentially indelible story lines” embraced by Republicans and the punditocracy. He also notes that Obama hasn’t done enough to “create stars” from within his White House team.
But this, in particular, has to be the least compelling criticism of a president I’ve seen in a long while:
In 2008 the country clearly craved new leadership that would sweep into the capital and change the ways of Washington. But politically and personally, the First Couple and their top aides have shown no hankering for the Establishment seal of approval, nor have they accepted the glut of invitations to embassy parties and other tribal rituals of the political class. In the sphere of Washington glitter, the Clintons were clumsy and the Bush team indifferent, but the Obama Administration has turned a cold shoulder, disappointing Beltway salons and newsrooms whose denizens hoped the uber-cool newbies would play.
I read this and consider it praise.
As Matt Yglesias put it, “The people I know who work in the administration, though by no means ‘top aides,’ generally seem quite busy. They’re trying to govern the country under difficult circumstances! And I think the public will generally sleep easily knowing that more time is being put into policies aimed at improving people’s lives than on hankering for the ‘establishment seal of approval.'”
Also of note, Halperin holds the president responsible for congressional Republicans going insane and running a scorched-earth campaign against his administration. Reality suggests GOP madness isn’t Obama’s fault.