Obama So Far: Good Job!

Obama So Far: Good Job!

By Richard Reeves - July 20, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- This is about what I think, expressed cleverly by another columnist, Froma Harrop of the Providence Journal:

"When the pollster calls and asks whether I think the country is going in the right direction, I will say 'no.' When she asks if I approve of the job Congress is doing, I will say 'no.' And when she follows up with a question on President Obama's performance, I will answer: 'Sometimes good, sometimes bad. The guy drives me nuts at times.'

"But when they ask whether I want Republicans to take back Washington, I'll respond: 'Are you out of your mind? We're still recovering from their last round of debauchery -- their fiscal irresponsibility, servility toward Wall Street, disrespect for science, contempt for the environment.'"

Harrop says she is a "reasonable woman," who does not care about ideology. And she adds that many voters must agree with her.

Well, I do, even if I do care about ideology.

Then, she says: "Republicans doubled the national debt under Bush. Perhaps they'd like to triple it the next time."

Actually, they have already done that: The national debt tripled during the administration of Ronald Reagan. He made his career by attacking "tax and spend" Democrats. Then he invented "tax and borrow" Republicanism. That was certified as party dogma when Vice President Dick Cheney told President George W. Bush: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."

President Obama may have driven pundit Harrop a bit nuts last week. "You know, sometimes these pundits, they can't figure me out," the president said, campaigning in Kansas City, Mo. "They say, 'Well, why is he doing that? That doesn't poll well.' Well, I've got my own pollsters, I know it doesn't poll well. But it's the right thing to do for America."

That presidential "insight" was reported a day later, when The New York Times ran the headline "Obama Pushes an Agenda Without an Eye on Polls," over an analysis by Sheryl Gay Stolberg. His mistake, it seems, was doing what he said he would do when he campaigned for the presidency.

The Times analysis focuses on Obama's devotion to his agenda to the point that he ignored the immediate concerns of much of the nation:

"The political context has changed around him. Today, with unemployment remaining persistently near double digits despite the scale of the stimulus program and the BP oil spill having raised questions about his administration's competence, Mr. Obama's signature legislation is providing ammunition to conservatives who argue that government is the problem, not the solution. What Mr. Obama and his allies portray as progressive, activist government has been framed by his opponents as overreaching and profligate when it comes to the economy."

If you happen to think Obama is a reasonable man, you are impressed that he can survive at all in the current political context. His presidency and campaigns are and will be about a fundamental American question: What is the role of government?

Obama has shown what he thinks it is, as Stolberg wrote:

"Mr. Obama has done what he promised when he ran for office in 2008: He has used government as an instrument to try to narrow the gaps between the haves and the have-nots. He has injected $787 billion in tax dollars into the economy, provided health coverage to 32 million uninsured and now, reordered the relationship among Washington, Wall Street, investors and consumers."

That would look great to many -- and will to history -- without context changers like stubborn unemployment, suggesting fundamental changes in the economy that Obama and the rest of us do not yet understand, and the damned oil spill. That context changer is an example of how much hypocrisy the electorate can tolerate and pundits can understand. The same people who are attached to Reagan's line that the government is the problem, that we need less government outreach, are the people who have been attacking Obama for not doing enough in the Gulf.

Personally, I think the guy, the president, is doing a pretty good job in ominous times. I will repeat that if any pollster wants to call.


Copyright 2010, Universal UClick

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