Mark Halperin and Michael Moore have columns that, oddly enough, express the same essential delusion about American politics. The delusion is that political outcomes are primarily determined by presidential style. Moore's column is a populist fantasy that Obama could have enacted appreciably more left-wing policies if he simply demanded them of Congress. Here's Moore imagining himself as chief of staff:
you and I are going to be up at 5 in the morning, 7 days a week and I am going to get you pumped up for battle every single day (see photo). Each morning you and I will do 100 jumping jacks and you will repeat after me:
"THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ELECTED ME, NOT THE REPUBLICANS, TO RUN THE COUNTRY! I AM IN CHARGE! I WILL ORDER ALL OBSTRUCTIONISTS OUTTA MY WAY! IF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE DON'T LIKE WHAT I'M DOING THEY CAN THROW MY ASS OUT IN 2012. IN THE MEANTIME, I CALL THE SHOTS ON THEIR BEHALF! NOW, CONGRESS, DROP AND GIVE ME 50!!"
Then we will put on our jogging sweats and run up to Capitol Hill. We will take names, kick butts, and then take some more names. If we have to give a few noogies or half-nelson's, then so be it. In our pockets we will have a piece of paper to show the pansy Dems just how much they won by in 2008 -- and the poll results that show the majority of Americans oppose the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and want the bankers punished. Like drill sergeants, we will get right up in their faces and ask them, "WHAT PART OF THE PUBLIC MANDATE DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND, SOLDIER?!! DROP AND GIVE ME 50!"
Halperin, meanwhile, argues that Obama has mistakenly followed George W. Bush's organizational and personnel-related mistakes. It's not so much wrong as wildly mistaken about what actually drives political outcomes. Halperin is expressing the dominant drama critic style of political journalism, which downplays or ignores fundamentals and focuses on minor dramas.
Jonathan Bernstein counters:
While I'm ready to criticize Obama when he deserves it, I think most of the recent chatter (the Rahm stuff, the NYT Axelrod piece) derive from one straight line that goes from the economy to Obama's approval ratings to a search for a scapegoat, without any pause to consider whether the administration is responsible for those approval ratings. Indeed, I think a far better argument could be made that Obama's approval ratings are higher than the economic situation would predict; in other words, I think he's doing a pretty good job with the spin portions of the presidency.
Obama's political choices are obviously neither perfect nor meaningless. The question those who assert that various political blunderings have caused Obama to fail need to answer is: given economic conditions, what level of popularity would you expect given competent political tactics?