The excerpts that Bloomberg published Wednesday from its interview with Barack Obama provoked some indignation from Simon Johnson, Paul Krugman, and others, but the full interview, published yesterday morning by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, deserves a few additional howls.
I don’t think anyone would mistake me for a big fan of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main (as they put it) “pro-Israel” lobby in Washington. The only organization of that kind that I’ve ever given money to is Americans for Peace Now in Israel. And I have defended critics of AIPAC, including Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of The Israel Lobby, from charges of anti-Semitism. But I think Walt and Mearsheimer have been dead wrong in trying to blame the Israel lobby or the Israeli government for America’s invasion of Iraq.
Jon Chait reads far too much into my analysis of Obama’s weakness with white working class voters. He mistakes a special for a general theory of the Obama presidency. I am the last person to attribute all of Obama’s political difficulties to his inability to touch the hearts of the white working class. If I had to explain the rise in voter disapproval of his presidency, I’d rate the rise of unemployment, Americans’ inherent distrust of government programs, and the intransigence of the Republicans well above the special political problems I described and tried to explain.
Here is a fact: Barack Obama has trouble generating enthusiasm among white working class voters. That’s not because they are white. He would have had trouble winning support among black working class voters if they had been unable to identify with him because he was black. He has trouble with working class voters because he appears to them as coming from a different world, a different realm of experience, a different class, if you like. And that’s because he does. I have recently read several stories about Obama that treat these difficulties as if they were paradoxical.
I was a child of the J.D. Salinger generation. Not of his generation, but of his stories and one novel, The Catcher in the Rye. I read Catcher in Rye in prep school when I was fourteen, using a flash light after lights-out. I didn’t get expelled like Holden Caulfield did, but my roommate and I would sometimes sneak off to New York with phony permission slips signed by our parents and fake IDs to roam around bars and dream of escaping to the West (which I eventually did).
Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While party loyalists might blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party.
I defer to Noam on the administration’s motives for announcing this spending freeze and on the real impact of the freeze on spending. But I want to say two things about it. First, if it was done to appease bond traders (where have we have heard that before?), it is ridiculous. Interest rates aren’t exactly soaring these days. It is not 1993.
I continue to hear people saying that Martha Coakley’s defeat in Massachusetts had nothing or very little to do with the approval of the Obama administration in that state. For those who continue to adhere to this opinion, let’s look at some other states where the decline in a candidate’s polls can’t be explained away by the Democratic candidate’s ineptitude.