It’s wall-to-wall Obama in the newspapers and on the airwaves, and I keep wondering, Was it quite so overwhelming in the run-up to previous inaugurations? I think not. Presumably the gushing media response is generated by some combination of Barack Obama’s being our first African-American president, his being the antidote to an epidemic of Bush Derangement Syndrome, and our growing cult of the presidency. I complained once about people who see the president as “a combination of Superman, Santa Claus, and Mother Teresa,” and this month journalists are leading the way. Even New York Times reporter Helene Cooper, writing the “pool report” for other journalists on Obama’s visit to the Washington Post, noted that “around 100 people–Post reporters perhaps?–awaited PEOTUS’s arrival, cheering and bobbing their coffee cups.” Post reporter Howard Kurtz assured readers that his fellow journalists did gawk, but they did not cheer or applaud.
The Washington Post banners Obama’s “centrist approach.” Even Blue Dog Democrat Jim Cooper says he’s showing “great centrism.” He’s promising to spend a trillion dollars more than the most spendthrift president in history. If he promised to spend two trillion dollars more, would the Post see his program as left-liberal?
For politicians everything is politics: “It has been more than three months since he sat through a Sunday church service and at least five years since he attended regularly, but during the transition, Obama has spoken to religious leaders almost daily. They said Obama calls to seek advice, but rarely is it spiritual. Instead, he asks how to mobilize faith-based communities behind his administration.”
“Nation’s Hopes High for Obama,” says the Washington Post-ABC News poll. Those polled say that they have high expectations for his administration, they think he has a mandate for major new programs, and they like his promise to give virtually everyone some money. Indeed, according to a graphic in the paper but apparently not online, 79 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of Barack Obama, much higher than the numbers for Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, or Bush II as they prepared to take office. In fact, the only modern president whose favorable ratings on the eve of inauguration matched Obama’s was Jimmy Carter. Hmmmmm.
Bob Woodward offers 10 lessons Obama could learn from the mistakes of the Bush administration. One of them is “Righteous motives are not enough for effective policy.” Woodward directs all his lessons at foreign and defense policy, but that’s a good rule for domestic policy too. The fact that a policy sounds right-minded – create jobs, raise the minimum wage, ban sweatshop products, mandate energy efficiency – doesn’t mean that it will work. Economic processes are dynamic, not static. Benefits have costs. Another of Woodward’s rules is “A president must do the homework to master the fundamental ideas and concepts behind his policies.” Again, that applies to economic as well as to foreign policy. Has Obama read any thoughtful criticisms of Keynesian economics or of “job creation” schemes or of renewable-energy mandates? He met with conservative pundits, but has he sat down and listened to any of the many economists who oppose his stimulus plans?
On a lighter note, former “Saturday Night Live” writer and Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay discussed Ferrell’s Broadway show, “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush” with the Washington Post. Asked how he might make Obama-related comedy, McKay said it would be tough because “Obama’s an actual adult who knows how to work.” Let’s see … four years ago Obama was voting “present” in the state senate, and now he’s going to be president. His supporters range from journalists who compared him to “the New Testament” to actual voters who exult, “I won’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know. If I help [Obama], he’s gonna help me.” He himself said that his capture of the Democratic nomination “was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow.” If humorists can’t find some humor there, we need better humorists.
And maybe it’s appropriate that a singer known as “The Boss” headlined the inaugural concert for a candidate whose wife promised, “Barack Obama will require you to work… . Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”