Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Critiques

Two recent columns critiquing President Obama strike remarkably similar themes despite the fact that one addresses foreign policy and the other domestic policy.

The first comes via a post over at Lakeshore Laments which comments on a column by Robert Kagan that appeared in the Washington Post. Kagan makes the point that much of the Obama foreign policy so far is really just a continuation of policies that began under Bush, but they are being touted as part of the change that Obama promised to bring to government.

Kagan goes on to argue that the administration is able to make the case that their actions thus far represent change only because the press corps accepts these claims uncritically. As Kevin over at Lakeshore points out however, Kagan's critique is somewhat diminished by his reputation as an advocate of the war in Iraq. No such problem exists as far as I know for the author of the second critique, economics writer Robert Samuelson.

Samuelson's column that appeared at Real Clear Politics on Monday is entitled "Obama is a Great Pretender," and focuses on Obama's domestic policy initiatives, particularly his budget and the stimulus. I wouldn't say that Samuelson is known as a partisan, but as the title suggests, his criticism is absolutely withering. It begins:
To those who believe that Barack Obama is a different kind of politician -- more honest, more courageous -- please don't examine his administration's budget. If you do, you may sadly conclude that he resembles presidents stretching back to John Kennedy in one crucial respect. He won't tax voters for all the government services they want. That's the main reason we've run budget deficits in 43 of the past 48 years.

Obama is a great pretender. He repeatedly says he's doing things that he isn't, trusting his powerful rhetoric to obscure the difference. He has made "responsibility" a personal theme; the budget's cover line is "A New Era of Responsibility." He says the budget begins "making the tough choices necessary to restore fiscal discipline." It doesn't.

Samuelson goes on from there to describe how a truly responsible budget might treat issues such as taxation, entitlements, defense spending and farm subsidies. He also takes Obama to task for the lack of bipartisan support his proposals have found thus far. Stating that Obama has pursued positions that invite rather than avoid opposition.

As he closes, Samuelson strikes some of the same themes that Kagan did - the lack of real change and a complicit media:
Obama thinks he can ignore these blatant inconsistencies. Like many smart people, he believes he can talk his way around problems. Maybe. He's helped by much of the media, who seem so enthralled with him that they don't see glaring contradictions. During the campaign, Obama said he would change Washington's petty partisanship; he also advocated a highly partisan agenda. Both claims could not be true. The media barely noticed; the same obliviousness persists. But Obama still runs a risk: that his overworked rhetoric loses its power and boomerangs on him.
I'll save the fashion report on the emperor here, but suffice it to say that both commentators note a striking disconnect rhetoric and reality. A condition that is at the very least ignored, and at the worst actually aided, by the nation's media.

Maybe it is too much to ask of one man to change an entire nation's politics, but is it too much to ask him to stop telling us that he is doing just that? Probably. After all, the President is a politician. But it is definitely not too much to ask our nation's reporters and editors to approach a president, even one they have great personal affection for, with a more skeptical eye.

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