Newsweek's Tomasky Misses the Obvious

It's actually kind of funny to watch a liberal journalist, hit in the face with all the relevent data,  drawing anything but the painfully obvious conclusion.

Take Michael Tomasky of Newsweek/The Daily Beast, who chalks up President Obama's trouble in recent opinion polls to his spin doctor team in the White House (emphasis mine):


We were told, as I recall, that Barack Obama had to seek a debt deal with the Republicans to please independent voters. Well, the independent voters are speaking, and they don’t appear to be especially appeased. There’s a new Gallup poll just out showing that independent voters hate the deal. Their views on it are far more similar to the GOP’s than to the Democratic Party’s. Combine these data with the president’s approval numbers, which are swiftly heading south, and we have little choice but to conclude that this brilliant stratagem backfired. Isn’t it time for someone to say: this new White House political team is worse than the previous one?

First let me run you through the numbers. Americans disapprove of the deal by 46 to 39 percent. Democrats support it 58-28. Republicans oppose it 26-64. Independents oppose it 33-50. A second question asked of respondents: Was the deal a step forward or backward or neither with respect to “addressing the federal debt situation?” Democrats lined up 30-14-50. Republicans, 15-28-52. Independents, 16-25-50. Finally, independents also align more closely with Republicans on the question of whether the deal will have a good or bad effect on the economy. Whereas 29 percent of Democrats think the effect will be good, just 12 percent of independents and 8 percent of Republicans believe that.

Independents tend to agree with Republicans and Tea Partiers on the substance of the primary issue in the coming presidential year. But for Tomasky, that is a failure of Obama's political packaging, not his policy per se:

The fundamental problem appears to be the excessive fixation on Obama’s (forgive me for even using this word) “brand”—this “adult in the room” nonsense. Whenever I see those words in print anymore, usually in a background quote from a White House aide or a Democratic source trying gamely to be on-message, I hear strong and unsettling echoes of the 2008-vintage messianism. Does anyone buy this anymore, outside of what appears to be an increasingly bubble-ized White House? Those beloved independents certainly aren’t thinking of the president that way these days, and one doubts that even most of his supporters are.

Obama’s brand is and has by now long been determined by events and facts, not by White House spin and set pieces, or by vestigial remnants of the Days of Hope. Those events and facts are almost uniformly grim (except Libya, whose political gains will be fleeting or perhaps nonexistent). Adults get credit when the household is running smoothly and the kids are well behaved and pulling good grades. With none of those things happening, the adult in the room is precisely the last thing to want to be. But they refuse to change gears.

Watching this White House over these last several weeks has been like watching a time-lapse video of an apple rotting. We’re supposed to believe now that the jobs plan to be announced next month will change everything. Maybe. But what needs to change is the way the White House approaches politics. To what? To a simple, blunt, and deeply real-world truth: He’s not nearly as bad as the other guys, who are crazy. That’s all he’s got. That’s his “brand” now. If his people keep insisting on trying to package him the way they did three years ago, he won’t have even that.

Campaigns & Elections 2012 Presidential Online Media Daily Beast Michael Tomasky