Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Pushing the Narrative

In order to run for the office of president of the United States, I would argue that it takes a certain amount of confidence in one’s ability to do the job. There is little else that could induce me to go through the stress of campaigning. For this reason, I generally have a higher standard of evidence regarding claims alleging Obama’s arrogance, elitism, or hubris. Commentary I’ve read lately however (outside Dirty Fucking Hippy circles), has tended to attribute the thumping the Democrats received on Tuesday in whole or in part to these three things.

John F. Harris and Glenn Thrush of Politico wonder if the president can mend his ways, “it is still to be seen whether Obama shares with his most successful predecessors a capacity for self-critique and self-correction.”

I really do think that warming up the old “center-right nation” chestnuts and Obama-is-high-fallutin’-type messaging is missing the point. I suppose that’s because the picture painted by precedent and polling data is pretty ho-hum and doesn’t lend itself well to exciting narratives about presidencies on a knife edge and the irrepressible market society:

  • Parties in power tend to lose seats in mid-terms
  • The economy still hasn’t recovered and unemployment is still high
  • Older, more conservative people came out to vote, many of the not-so-conservative people sat this one out

I was happy therefore to see Tom Scocca take the Politico piece out behind the woodshed:

Politico isn’t after a plausible story, it’s after the Narrative—the things that lawmakers, lobbyists, and veterans of previous administrations say to reporters in background conversations to explain how history would be different, if only the people in charge were as smart as they are. Barack Obama is a prisoner of his monstrous ego and blind self-confidence, and that is why Blanche Lincoln lost in Arkansas.

Precisely. Politico’s analysis just feels shallow and replete with lazy thinking. Scocca pulls out a few of them -his post is well worth the read- but there was one other thing that irked me. Mike Lawrence, a Republican staffer at the Illinois State Capitol, spoke of a change he perceived in Obama since he assumed the presidency:

He was a guy who could take criticism gracefully. Once, I blew up at him, and he chuckled and said, ‘Gee, Mike, you’re really intense,’” said Lawrence, who first got to know Obama as press secretary to then-Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar in the 1990s. “The difference I see now from a distance is a guy who’s defensive and seems to always be in campaign mode.”

Accepting this as true, is there anything that could shed light on this transformation? Anything the party Mr. Lawrence works for has been encouraging people to believe about the president?




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