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The Daily Fray

Is Barack Obama Playing Us?

February 7, 2011

Is the media getting played by President Obama? Politico's John F. Harris and Jim Vandehei say yes. Obama was seen as a "sad sack" after the midterm elections, which were disastrous for his party. Only a couple months later, he's back--good (and getting better) poll numbers, and "status as Washington’s dominant figure unchallenged even by Republicans."

The turnaround shows "Obama is playing the press like a fiddle," Harris and Vandehei write. How's he doing it? By exploiting the press' long-held love for centrists and bipartisanship. The most important reporters from the biggest outlets have praised the president as "magnetic," "Reaganesque," "Kennedyesque," "inspiring," and leading a Washington "love train." Voters are showing the love, too, in better poll numbers.

Whether Obama's new moderation will translate to actually moderate policies is yet to be seen. But Politico offers a few quick ways he's gotten on top of a "wave of centrism fever": bowing to the press' "centrism bias," respecting Washingon rituals and consulting with veterans of previous administrations, encouraging comparisons to Reagan and Clinton, cursing the deficit, and scorning wing nuts.


But not everyone agrees with VandeHarris' analysis. So who's more full of it: Centrist Obama, centrist-loving reporters, or Politico?

  • Politico and Press in General to Blame, Hugh Hewitt writes. Hewitt disagrees that the media has a centrist bias instead of a liberal one. "The caricature of the conservative critique of the MSM is of course part of MSM's, and Politico's, problem, and the defining-down of the MSM's bias from being pro-Democratic to being pro-centrist is equally revealing about the blinkers that Politico's leaders are wearing. But the piece is a start, a recognition that there is a huge problem within the Manhattan-Beltway media elite."
  • Press Is the Problem, The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen writes. "When push comes to shove, it's a D.C. industry filled with David Broders.  ... I don't really expect the Politico's recognition of this to generate any introspection -- the media culture in D.C. is too ingrained -- but it's heartening to see the acknowledgement of the problem anyway."
Indeed, what [Politico's] really hinting at here... is that all the talk about Obama moving to the ideological 'center' is a bunch of hogwash. ... My own personal take is that Obama, rather than moving to the center, is effectively redefining it as a place that's in line with his longstanding approach--as a place where gestures towards fiscal discipline such as the spending and pay freeze can comfortably coexist with increased government spending on our future. What Obama is attempting is far more subtle than many commentators are willing to acknowledge.
  • Does Politico Not Love Centrism? FishbowlDC's Alec Jacobs wonders. "A White House reporter writes in, 'Hard to take the VandeHarris seriously today when they’re coming off a two-week run of almost daily Obama as Reagan stories.'" Another anonymous reporter noted these Politico headlines: "Why Obama can’t shake Bush," "Can Barack Obama pull a Bill Clinton?" and "Clinton years hold clues for Obama."
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