Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Obama's Surge: A Media Fable

The story line is set: What George W. Bush tried to do by doubling down in Iraq, Barack Obama is accomplishing with a wave of empathic vigor--health care for 9/11 responders, repealing DADT, consoling and uplifting the nation after the Tucson atrocity and now the State of the Union.

"What Obama seeks," says New York Magazine, "is to reconnect with the essence of why he was elected, to reanimate the unifying, postpartisan, pragmatic yet visionary persona that inspired so many in the first place. 'What he wants,' says one of his friends, 'is to be Barack Obama again.'”

Significantly, this gush is titled "The West Wing, Season II" and concludes with a dramatic flourish:

"Obama lost his storyteller’s touch, and also his connection to what made so many vest so much hope in him to begin with: his apparent capacity to lift the country up and calm it down at the same time. Has he figured out how to reclaim that brand of mojo? Not yet, not fully. But at least he understands he must, which is a start."

The media, often wrong but never in doubt, are manufacturing yet another chapter in the ongoing fable of American politics created out of a messy reality. The needs of the news machine require not just a partial reversal in the President's fortunes but the fadeout of a two-hour movie.

A New York Times analysis is closer to the mark: "Mr. Obama’s recovery is not dramatic in magnitude, and may not last. What is notable is its rapidity" as an editorial soberly notes:

"(T)he president will have to balance inspiration...with feisty confidence in his fundamental principles. The midterm election showed how strongly voters hungered for lost leadership on the economy. Mr. Obama has it within him to stand up to the forces of governmental destruction and begin restoring confidence in his leadership."

There is no reset button in national politics, and expecting the President to change the Washington climate with yet another speech is a disservice to him and all of us. The best he can be expected to do is take away some of the GOP euphoric momentum toward butchering the budget without regard to human priorities.

As he speaks, Barack Obama may be facing some intermingled Republicans and Democrats, but it won't escape his attention that Mitch McConnell will be firmly rooted in his usual seat. It will take more than words, however eloquent, to move him an inch.

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