Jonathan Chait

The Misanthropic White House

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Politico honchos John Harris and Jim Vandehei have a big story on their site about how the Obama administration, despite numerous major policy successes, is bad at politics. I find the thesis unpersuasive -- Obama remains by far the most popular national politician. Indeed, their argument is almost a self-contradiction -- enacting your policy agenda is the purpose of politics. The article is a strange expression of Washington journalism logic, expressed in its strongest form by Politico, which deems politics a kind of game that exists utterly apart from policy.

That aside, Harris and Vandehei do pick up some interesting nuggets. For one, they note that the Obama administration and the press corps hate each other:

In what would surprise media critics outside Washington, many reporters don’t much like Obama or his gang either. They accurately perceive the contempt with which they are held by his White House, an attitude that undoubtedly flows from the top. Insults and blustery non-responses, f-bombs flying, are common in how West Wing aides speak to reporters.

 

In a transactional city like Washington, personal relations usually only matter at the margins. But in a poor political climate those margins can be important, and there’s no mistaking that across the capital there are many people who seem to be enjoying the president's travails, and cheering whenever he takes a cream pie to the face.

Gosh, I can't imagine why the White House would consider the press corps to be superficial, process-obsessed and prone to groupthink.

They also capture the administration's exasperation with its liberal critics:

In private conversations, White House officials are contemptuous of what they see as liberal lamentations unhinged from historical context or contemporary political realities.

The interesting thing here is that the administration is paying attention to the left at all. During the Clinton administration, liberal complaints were almost totally off the national radar. The internet has given the left a stronger voice, and while that voice is often unreasonable, it's valuable to have a political dialogue that doesn't range from the unhinged right to the very moderate center-left, as we did in the 1990s and early Bush years.

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