A running joke among the progressive blogosphere for the past several years has been that the news media interprets everything as good news for Republicans. Sometimes, a specific Republican was lucky enough to benefit from everything that happened, as with the months-long stretch during the GOP presidential primaries when event after event was deemed to redound to Rudy Giuliani's benefit. His great good fortune notwithstanding, Giuliani fell 1,191 delegates short of the 1,191 required for the nomination.
The single most astounding example of the media's habitual search for the silver lining on even the darkest storm clouds hovering over the GOP may have been the time in 2006 when NBC's Matt Lauer suggested President Bush's unpopularity might be "a blessing in disguise for Republicans in these midterm elections?" It turned out to be a heck of a disguise: Republicans lost 30 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate. Then, last November, some media figures actually tried to argue that the presidential election results carried good news for the GOP.
If everything is good news for the Republicans, it must follow that everything is bad news for Democrats. And so the media often set up comically transparent lose-lose situations for them.
Last month, for example, several reporters criticized president-elect Obama for honoring Patrick Fitzgerald's request that he not disclose contacts between his staff and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. But it could not possibly be more obvious that if Obama had blown off Fitzgerald's request, the media would react with a frenzy of suggestion that he had improperly impeded Fitzgerald's investigation.
Today, the Politico sets up another lose-lose for Obama:
Barack Obama will lay out his vision for a massive economic stimulus plan in meetings with congressional leaders Monday. Perhaps more important, he'll be taking a major step toward rebuilding the broken relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch.
Doing so will be critical to the success of his agenda.
If Obama seems unwilling to take lawmakers' ideas into account, he could risk whatever goodwill he's getting from the GOP and irk Democrats expecting to play a big role in a new Washington. But if Obama bends to the demands of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, the public could perceive him as a weak president even before he takes the oath of office.
So, if Obama "seems unwilling" to listen to Congress, he'll lose. And if he does listen to them, he loses, too. Gosh, isn't there any way for Obama to be successful?
If Obama manages to pull off the neat trick of bending to the demands of both Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, the Politico suggests the public could perceive him as "weak" before he is even sworn in. As a colleague noted this morning, if that were to happen, it would likely be for little reason other than that media like the Politico keep baselessly repeating the possibility.
Though "possibility" is probably a generous choice of words. The most recent CNN poll found that 82 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling his transition. 84 percent have "some" or "a lot" of confidence in Obama's ability to provide "real leadership for the country." Other polls show similar levels of approval of and confidence in Obama.
If, as Politico suggests may happen, the public is going to perceive Obama as "a weak president even before he takes the oath of office," they better show some hustle - they have only 15 days left to change their minds about him in huge numbers.