Peggy Noonan is lucky, in a way, for the existence of Karl Rove and Dick Morris. The duo absorbed most of the mockery and heat for their irrationally optimistic predictions that Mitt Romney would trounce President Obama last November, allowing pundits like Noonan, who were no less sanguine about the impending Romney ascendance, to ease into 2013 relatively unscathed. The day before the election, you'll recall, Noonan explained on her Wall Street Journal blog why Romney would win. "All the vibrations are right," she sensed, "Something old is roaring back."
Election Day came and went and now Noonan has to grapple with the fact that her political seismometer was off and explain why the president she thought so feeble was able to sew up reelection so easily. To that end, she's written a Journal column speculating on whether Obama is already a lame duck, and argues that part of what's keeping Obama back is that he was too good at getting reelected.
Which has me thinking of two things that have weakened the Obama presidency and haven't been noted. One was recent and merely unhelpful. The other goes back, and encouraged a mindset that became an excuse, perhaps a fatal one.
The recent one: In the days after the 2012 election the Democrats bragged about their technological genius and how it turned the election. They told the world about what they'd done--the data mining, the social networking, that allowed them to zero in on Mrs. Humperdink in Ward 5 and get her to the polls. It was quite impressive and changed national politics forever. But I suspect their bragging hurt their president. In 2008 Mr. Obama won by 9.5 million votes. Four years later, with all the whizbang and money, he won by less than five million. When people talk about 2012 they don't say the president won because the American people endorsed his wonderful leadership, they say he won because his team outcomputerized the laggard Republicans.
This has left him and his people looking more like cold technocrats who know how to campaign than leaders who know how to govern. And it has diminished claims of a popular mandate. The president's position would be stronger now if more people believed he had one.
Ah yes, the aura of competence that every politician so dreads.
There's been a lot of talk lately about the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power, wherein the dithering Congress can be whipped into shape by the president's mystical powers of persuasion and leadership. What Noonan is describing here is the Iron Man Theory of Presidential Politics, arguing that Obama, stripped of his technology, would have been as vulnerable and powerless as Tony Stark without his impressive suit of armor. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does help to explain why Noonan was misled by the "vibrations" -- Obama flipped a switch and activated his army of robot voters.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attacked President Obama for "having a problem with the levers of power" after the Senate failed to pass background checks for gun sales despite the legislation receiving majority support -- the final vote was 54-46, with 41 Republicans voting against the measure. Previously Noonan has dismissed concerns about historic Republican obstruction in Congress with a sarcastic "boo hoo."
Appearing on Meet The Press, Noonan responded to the Senate's inability to pass background checks by referring to "a problem" when "90% of the American people" supported it but President Obama "can't make anything move."
Noonan neglected to mention that the measure required 60 votes in response to a Republican-led filibuster, so even though the vote was 54 to 46 in favor, the legislation failed.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attempted to join other right-wing media in attacking a New Republic article on Republican nullification efforts, but failed to address the article's main points in her rebuttal.
Noonan skips over the substance of the article to instead misrepresent the controversy around photo voter IDs and ignores the fact that rejections of federal authority through an appeal to "states' rights" are now commonplace in the Republican Party. This increase in attempts at nullification extend from unconstitutional state laws to filibusters of President Obama's nominees.
The article Noonan criticizes, "Why The GOP Is And Will Continue To Be The Party Of White People" by Sam Tanenhaus, argues that the Republican Party has built itself on the myth that states can lawfully resist federal laws with which they disagree. Rather than engage the theory - a concept that originated with John Calhoun's resistance to anti-slavery efforts - Noonan dismisses the argument because she never hears this 19th-century originator of nullification mentioned by name in conservative circles.
Instead, Noonan completely mischaracterizes the recent Republican push for government-issued photo voter ID, which is one of Tanenhaus' examples of the GOP's embrace of nullification. Contrary to Noonan's description, which explains that "vote rigging is part of our history" and "vote fraud happens," these laws are redundant and unnecessary layers of additional identification for a problem of in-person voter impersonation that is virtually non-existent.
As President Obama gears up for a reinauguration that, right up to Election Day, conservatives truly believed would never happen, the right is trying to figure out what went wrong and what can be done to set things right. A schism has emerged between those who think Republicans and conservatives simply need to tweak their messaging (a majority of Republicans believe this) versus those who think the party needs to update its policies (a majority of all Americans agree on this point). Both these factions get find their voice in separate columns from prominent conservatives today.
Jim DeMint, fresh off his resignation from the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation, plants his flag firmly in the "messaging" camp in a Washington Post op-ed. Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal that Republicans in Congress should raid the Democratic policy chest like seafaring privateers: "Really: It's pirate time."
Both columns, though, demonstrate that the lessons of 2012 have been ill-learned, and the intractability of the problems facing conservatives.
Let's start with DeMint and his missive in support of message tweaks. Here's what DeMint saw in 2012:
Unfortunately, welfare reform and missile defense have something in common beyond Heritage's intellectual paternity. They both have been gutted by President Obama. Always faint-hearted about missile defense, the president in his first year dismantled our programs in Poland and the Czech Republic. He disabled welfare reform last year, when he took away the work requirements that were at the heart of that law's success.
How could the president get away with hobbling two successful programs with barely a peep from the media or backlash from the millions of Americans whose lives are made better and more secure by these initiatives? That's a question and a challenge I take very personally.
DeMint's solution is to do "research" to make sure going forward conservative messaging on topics like missile defense and welfare is more effective. Of course, anyone who paid even casual attention to the 2012 race knows that Mitt Romney's attacked Obama relentlessly-- and falsely -- for "gutting welfare reform," and those attacks were covered extensively by the political press. The problem with the attack (which originated with Heritage) was that it was over-the-top and wrong, and undermined by the fact that Republican governors were embracing the welfare policies Romney was attacking.
If there's a coherent point to Peggy Noonan's January 3 Wall Street Journal column on President Obama and the fiscal cliff, it's not readily apparent. The general thrust seems to be that the president is constitutionally incapable of cutting deals with his Republican adversaries in Congress, but Noonan's arguments are almost completely untethered to the actual story of the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Noonan writes of the president:
He didn't deepen any relationships or begin any potential alliances with Republicans, who still, actually, hold the House. The old animosity was aggravated. Some Republicans were mildly hopeful a second term might moderate those presidential attitudes that didn't quite work the first time, such as holding himself aloof from the position and predicaments of those who oppose him, while betraying an air of disdain for their arguments. He is not quick to assume good faith. Some thought his election victory might liberate him, make his approach more expansive. That didn't happen.
"Some Republicans were mildly hopeful a second term might moderate those presidential attitudes that didn't quite work the first time." What? Obama won reelection comfortably. He won reelection after passing sweeping health care and economic recovery bills in the face of unified Republican opposition. To the extent that Obama had "presidential attitudes that didn't quite work," they weren't dysfunctional enough to derail his agenda or make the 2012 race a nail-biter, so what exactly is Noonan talking about?
And what reason does the president have to "assume good faith" on the part of the GOP? On the day of his first inauguration the GOP congressional leadership plotted out its strategy to act in bad faith with the intention of unseating him. Is Obama supposed to trust them now because that goal is no longer operative? None of this makes sense.
The president didn't allow his victory to go unsullied. Right up to the end he taunted the Republicans in Congress: They have a problem saying yes to him, normal folks try to sit down and work it out, not everyone gets everything they want. But he got what he wanted, as surely he knew he would, and Republicans got almost nothing they wanted, which was also in the cards. At Mr. Obama's campfire, he gets to sing "Kumbaya" solo while others nod to the beat.
Obama had the stronger hand, but he did not get everything he wanted. The White House wanted tax rates to go up on household income exceeding $250,000; in the end they settled on $450,000. The president wanted the estate tax bumped to 45 percent and the exemption knocked down to $3.5 million; in the end it was set at 40 percent with a $5 million exemption. And that compromise came about by negotiating with the Senate while the House GOP fumbled about with the abortive "Plan B" -- Boehner's bill to raise rates on people making $1 million plus that failed when his own caucus refused to support it -- and threatened to scuttle the Senate deal before finally approving it.
Sticking with Noonan's campfire metaphor, Obama was singing "Kumbaya" while Senate Republicans mumbled along and the House GOP were off in the woods whacking each other with whiffle bats.
Fox is criticizing the Obama administration's Hurricane Sandy relief efforts by comparing them to the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. In fact, there are few similarities between the responses, and the Obama administration's response to Sandy has been widely praised by members of both parties.
From the September 23 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:
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Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin is very angry. Again.
Malkin is very angry the "lap dog" press is being so mean to Mitt Romney and is making a big deal about the "47 percent" comments he made behind closed doors to wealthy donors about how nearly half of Americans are lazy, irresponsible and unwilling to work hard to improve their lives.
Typing off the age-old conservative script, Malkin robotically blamed the press for Romney's latest campaign stumble, claiming there's a conspiracy among journalists and Democrats to shift the attention away from Obama and focus on alleged Romney gaffes.
But there's a slight problem this time around with the blame game: Lots of conservative pundits, such as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol (as well as Republican members of Congress), have also denounced Romney's "47 percent" comments as irresponsible and misguided.
Malkin's response? Fox News contributor Kristol's part of the media problem and he's in on the colluded effort to doom Romney's campaign!
The intramural name-calling highlights the right-wing media fracture visible in the wake of Romney's "47 percent" debacle. Sides are being taken as to whether Romney's remarks were imprudent (i.e. "stupid and arrogant," as Kristol put it), or whether they can be used as a rallying cry to rescue his campaign.
More traditional Republican partisans in the press, such as the New York Times' David Brooks ("Thurston Howell Romney") and the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan ("Time For An Intervention"), have come down hard on Romney and belittled his campaign efforts.
By contrast, name-callers like Malkin and the more radical, Tea Party-leaning elements of the far-right media, including Fox News, have cheered the candidate's derogatory remarks and urged Romney to repeat them often on the campaign trail.
For this faction, virtually any criticism of their candidate is deemed off-limits, and heretics like Kristol must be publicly condemned.
Besides, Malkin insists Romney's attack on U.S. voters was dead-on [emphasis added]:
He's talking, of course, about the Peggy the Moochers and Henrietta Hugheses of the world - savior-based Obama supporters for whom the cult of personality trumps all else. He's talking about the Sandra Flukes and Julias of the world - Nanny State grievance-mongers who have been spoon-fed identity politics and victim Olympics from preschool through grad school and beyond. And he's talking about the encrusted entitlement clientele who range from the Section 8 housing mob in Atlanta that caused a near-riot to the irresponsible debt-ridden homeowners who mortgaged themselves into oblivion and want their bailout now, now, now.
Malkin despises all these people and loved Romney's closed-door attempt to demonize them during the campaign season. For Malkin and her Tea Party friends, that's what national campaigns are about, pitting Americans against each other by depicting political foes as parasites who feed off the generosity of hard working taxpayers. "This election is about America's makers versus America's takers," Malkin declared confidently.
Lots of Republican commentators disagree.
In her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan, who served as an assistant to President Ronald Reagan, wrote of Mitt Romney's upcoming convention speech:
Much is uncertain, no one knows what will happen this year, how it will turn out. But when I think of Mr. Romney's speech I find myself thinking of Alan Shepard.
It's May 5, 1961, in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and everyone's fussing. This monitor's blinking and that one's beeping and Shepard is up there, at the top of a Redstone rocket, in a tiny little capsule called Friendship 7. Mission Control is hemming and hawing: Should we stay or should we go? Finally Shepard says: "Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?"
That's what a good speech and a good convention right now can do. There's a great race ahead. Make it come alive. Come on and light this candle.
Right-wing media are acting as de facto political advisers for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, offering the candidate an array of advice that includes replacing his staffers, finding "his inner pit bull," and talking more about his faith.
From the August 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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I saw some chatter on Twitter this morning about how we all "Must Read" Peggy Noonan's newest Wall Street Journal column. So I read it, and I'll concur that you probably should as well, because it stands out as an archetypal example of Noonan's hopelessly vacant breed of analysis.
Here's the Peggy Noonan method for column-writing: 1) seize on trite observation about modern politics, present it as your devilishly original thesis; 2) lard out that unremarkable premise with prose that is overwrought, repetitive, or both; 3) think about what a comically out-of-touch pundit wants, ascribe that want to the "the people," sprinkle throughout; 4) go on Morning Joe.
Let's start with the premise: "Romney can win, but he needs more than applause lines." Of course he can win; he's one of the two major party candidates. She's also correct that a candidate for president needs to offer specifics that move beyond the canned laugh lines from the stump. All of this is glaringly obvious.
What does she bring to bear in support of her hackneyed premise? Flowery prose and deep, deep thoughts from a person thoroughly mired in the Beltway insider mentality:
They see Mr. Obama as surrounded by bad indicators--bad polls, bad economic numbers, scandals. They see a grubbiness in the administration now, a vacuity. When the White House sends out spokesmen to make the case for him on the Sunday morning shows, it's campaign operatives, like David Plouffe and David Axelrod. They more or less spin how he'll win. Where are the heavyweights, the cabinet secretaries, the great men and women of the Democratic Party? Hiding? Unable to make the case? Not trusted to make the case? Or are the political guys the only heavyweights in the administration?
I'm not sure I see the problem with sending "campaign operatives" out to "make the case" for the president, given that that's their job. And I love Noonan's inability to see beyond the Sunday show guest list as an indicator of effectiveness. If someone's not sitting down with David Gregory, they may as well not exist, right? Also, she's wrong about cabinet secretaries not sitting for Sunday interviews: in the last two months both Timothy Geithner and Leon Panetta have appeared on ABC's This Week.
Rush Limbaugh's trademark misogyny continues to haunt the Republican Party, but conservative pundits refuse to acknowledge that unpleasant truth. Instead, many Obama critics insist the recent political battle over contraception, in tandem with Rush Limbaugh's three-day verbal assault on Sandra Fluke, hasn't really hurt the GOP. In fact, it might have even helped.
What are partisans conveniently ignoring? The recent avalanche of good-news polling for Democrats, specifically the mounting evidence that the gender gap is accelerating at an alarming rate for Republicans.
That's Limbaugh legacy so far this year. But his fans don't dare admit it.
It was the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan who was out front last week leading the GOP's denial brigade. Obama's supposed political woes, she announced, began in January when the White House announced its (popular) decision to require church-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance plans that cover contraceptives for women. (In February, Noonan suggested Obama may have lost his re-election bid based solely on his handling of the issue.)
In her recent column, Noonan was sure she heard the "public reaction" to Obama's handling of the initiative:
"You're kidding me. That's not just bad judgment and a lack of civic tact, it's not even constitutional!"
Note those quotation marks are basically air quotes. Meaning, Noonan simply made up the quote, which reflected her own reaction to the contraception question, and suggested it mirrored a broader feeling about how Obama's contraception policy left a "sour taste" with Americans, and Catholics in particular.
Public polling released last month suggests otherwise:
Are you better off than you were four years ago? For a generation, that question has come to define presidential re-election campaigns. It's a question that requires an accounting not only of where we are as a country today, but also of where we were as a country four years ago.
More specifically, it's a question that goes directly to the issue of what President Obama did with the economy he inherited from George W. Bush.
It's a question that helps explain why media conservatives spent so much of 2011 gilding that Bush economy.
In June, former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan proposed a campaign slogan for Republicans running against Obama: "He made it worse." The pitch was economic in nature, arguing that Obama "inherited financial collapse, deficits and debt" and that he proceeded to "make them all worse."
Noonan's slogan could not stand up to scrutiny: economists agree that deficits are necessary during a recession, and Obama's policies are widely acknowledged to have lowered unemployment and boosted GDP. So it's no surprise that the right-wing media quickly embraced the slogan while simultaneously waging what became a 12-month assault on economic history to misrepresent the economy Obama inherited.
In June, Gretchen Carlson gave voice to the economic "argument" that media conservatives waged throughout the year:
CARLSON: How long can you continue to say that the hard hit recession of 2007 moving into 2008 is something that they inherited?
Let that marinate a bit. Despite acknowledging that the recession hit in 2007 -- more than a year before Obama took office -- Carlson posited that a point in time will arrive when we can all stop saying that Obama inherited a recession. That point in time does not exist: It will never not be true that Obama took office during a deep recession. Never.
But Fox disregarded the facts in leading a relentless campaign to deflect attention from the great recession Obama inherited.
We've detailed how the right-wing media is preparing to blame President Obama should the congressional super committee fail to reach a deal to decrease the federal deficit, and right-wingers are continuing to bolster that narrative.
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan laid out such a blame-Obama agenda on the November 20 edition of ABC's This Week:
NOONAN: Look, the super committee is over, it has broken down, nothing is going to happen here. ... Look, it broke down over classic Democrats/Republicans, spending/taxes. We know what the issues were. Some people tried to make compromise; it didn't work. It didn't work mostly, in my view, contra Rahm Emanuel, because the president never got involved in this. He never pushed it forward. He could have had a big psychological effect. There were moments where they came close. The president stiffed his own defense secretary, who said sequestering essentially will hollow out what we are trying to do here.
Noonan's complaint feeds the right-wing narrative that Obama wants the super committee to fail -- which is contradicted by the fact that Obama has repeatedly called upon the super committee to "get the job done" and reach a deal. It also ignores the fact that Republicans have refused to compromise and have instead proposed massive tax giveaways for the wealthiest Americans and even more massive cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, and other programs Americans rely on.
As the super committee deadline draws near, look for Noonan and others in the right-wing media to keep up the blame-Obama drumbeat.