"I've been scratching my head over this for the past year," Washington Post media commentator Howard Kurtz wrote Friday morning. "Does President Obama get credit for the things he does right?" Here are a couple of more pertinent questions over which to scratchy your head: does Obama do things right, and how do we measure his success?
The questions need to be posed, since Kurtz and scores of other prominent reporters seem to be taking it as a given that success should be measured in political terms, and therefore that Obama has succeeded tremendously. This attitude -- a product of an insulated and academic media universe -- renders all real world consequences of legislative victories irrelevant for the purpose of judging the president's record.
"With Thursday's Senate vote to approve sweeping new regulation of the banking industry," states Kurtz without providing a single corroborating fact, "the president has now delivered on his promise to clean up the Wall Street practices that nearly imploded the economy."
He has? Oh, I know he and the rest of Washington's liberal chatterbox insist that he has, but what has he actually done? He passed a bill. Nothing has gone into effect, so he couldn't possibly have cleaned up Wall Street. The statement is absurd on its face.
The suggestion that by passing the bill Obama has succeeded in preventing a financial crisis like 2008 would be akin to a journalist claiming that the Patriot Act would prevent another terrorist attack the day after that legislation became law. That, of course, did not happen.
But the essential point, obviously lost on Kurtz, is that the American people don't care about the minutiae of regulatory policy. They don't care about abstract legislative victories. They care about results -- about changes in their lives -- and rightfully so.
Much of the media seem to believe that Obama should be judged by his political successes, not the tangible results of those successes. As Ace puts it, Obama's victories "are legislative victories -- they are not victories as far as the most important thing to independents, which is, 1, a good economy, and 2, everything else being handled competently."
But the nation is not a lecture hall. Voters do not deal in the abstract. So when the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder went whining about how Obama "can't win" because any rhetorical stance he offers will be rejected, the obvious response was, "then stop taking rhetorical stances and start achieving something."
A number of journalists between Ambinder and Kurtz jumped on the "Obama is doing stuff so why don't Americans love him" bandwagon. Yesterday I reported on a similar line of argument from ABC's Z. Byron Wolf. Politico chimed in with a piece I added as an update. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times both joined the chorus.
All of the reporters that have weighed in on the topic seem to be taking the view that Obama is succeeding. By their standard he is: the president is enjoying a fair amount of political success. But in the real world, success is not defined by legislative victories. It is defined by the tangible results of those victories.
The presidential election of 2004 demonstrated this disconnect most clearly. While the media hammered George W. Bush for alleged offenses that really had no bearing on the lives of most Americans -- wiretaps on calls to foreign countries, for instance -- Americans were swayed by the fact that there had not been a terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.
The concrete results of Bush policies swayed American voters, while the more abstract policies of the Bush presidency had the media up in arms against him. The double-standard is more than apparent: when it comes to political blame and credit, count on the media asking for Republicans to get more of the former and Democrats more of the latter.