Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unconventional Wisdom

I read Profiles in Courage in high school.  I wouldn't be surprised if Barack Obama read it in high school as well.  I wonder if he remembers, as I do, the signature quote of the chapter on Thomas Hart Benton: "I despise the bubble popularity."

As the 2014 elections approach, Democrats are supposedly in trouble because the Obama bubble has supposedly burst.  An unpopular President, the media drones, a failed presidency.  Reporters are quick to detect any secret sign that a candidate is "running away" from the President.  As First Read pointed out, Democrats who run away from the President are fools.  First, they are Democrats and they are going to be identified with a Democratic President anyway.  And second, they'll alienate the very Democrats who gave Barack Obama two big majorities.

But there are contrarians out there who beg to differ with the premise.  One of them is Paul Krugman writing in Rolling Stone.  First of all, he takes issue with the idea that Obama is all that unpopular:

"Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn't mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn't happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn't what you'd expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down."

So much for the bubble popularity.  He continues:

"More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn't be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes."

 Krugman wasn't an Obama enthusiast and has criticized some of his actions as President.  But after 6 years he's taken the long view:

"Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it's working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it's much more effective than you'd think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy."

Read the piece.  It may cheer you or change your mind.  There's a companion list for the text averse:55 figures that prove President Obama has accomplished more than you may realize.
President Obama hugs a nurse who survived Ebola

And there's a different article that takes an overview of Obama's accomplishments in rolling back the rabid right Republican takeover of the judiciary.  This one may surprise you even more--it's by one of the best in the business, Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, and it includes an interview with the President.

Meanwhile, major Republican candidates are trying hard to hide how extreme they actually are.  And failing.  Look no farther than Colorado.  And the polls say she is ahead.  I don't pretend to understand what's going on in voters heads in these states.  But Democrats need to get their brains out of the bubble and their heads back up where they belong, and get to the polls.  We've got a President.  Don't let him down.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

R.I.P. The Editor: Ben Bradlee

For a short time in the post-Watergate '70s, Ben Bradlee and I had something in common: we were both editors of a Washington newspaper.  Of course, fledgling alternative weekly Washington Newsworks was not exactly the giant, swaggering Washington Post.  We were the "Washington Outsiders" (as our promo said--I wrote it) in direct contrast to the insiders at the Post.  Though there was also another daily in town (the solid, well-edited Washington Star) the Post was the measure of all journalism in Washington.  They were all over the glamorous federal Washington, but their Metro section was weak.  So we looked for our stories there, as well as in the youth culture that the Post saw chiefly with bemusement.

Though I never met Bradlee, he was already an icon.  I'd been in Boston when the Pentagon Papers and Watergate were happening--my own stories on the 1972 Nixon campaign cited the Post's reporting before it permeated the political consciousness.

  Then as Newsworks editor, Bradlee's boldness was an unadmitted model.  My first news decision was reviving a story that had been held back because it might offend an advertiser.  Bradlee wouldn't be intimidated! I worked with the writer to make sure the story was solid, and we gave the advertisers a heads-up on its publication (They shrugged--they knew newspapers reported stories when they bought the ads.)

  Later I went after a national story which involved facing down some very important people, channeling Bradlee without realizing it.  My proudest moment now was how Newsworks covered the assassination of Chilean activist Orlando Letelier in a car bombing by Pinochet's secret police on the streets of Washington that also killed American Ronni Karpen Moffitt.  Jeff Stein did all the reporting (he's now a columnist at the Washington Post) all on his own, so except for a little text editing my role was as Newswork's Bradlee.  I put the story on the cover and gave it major play inside.  I worked with Jeff, with the art and production department.  The result was the best and most thorough coverage in the city.  Better than yours, Ben.  I'll bet you noticed.

Those who knew him are marking his death with their remembrances.  (For good example, David Remnick at the New Yorker.)  For everybody else, there's an apparently dead-on portrayal of Bradlee by Jason Robards in the classic film of All the President's Men.  For me, there was and is the example of a editor with courage and panache who stood for--and stood up for--a kind of journalism I believed in, and tried to do.  Sure, he had lots of faults and some lapses.  So did and do I.  But as a model, he was it.  May he rest in peace, but his restless spirit ever pervade American journalism.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola Facts Not Fear 2

More Ebola facts, up to date (after many in quarantine are getting out, disease-free.)  Why some are so fearful (the perfect storm of fears: infectious disease, immigration and terrorism, exploited by politicians currently running.)  And why Ebola makes no sense as a terrorist weapon.  All of those are from Slate.

From Bloomberg, a little more psychological about why people are fearful.  And Jonathan Bernstein on why President Obama's choice for the Ebola "Czar" makes sense.

And an ongoing project but already wide perspective on all of this, check out the maybe too obvious wikipedia page.