Democratic Party

Obama: Political Misfortunes Show That "facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day"

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View from the Oval Office

How much does the president not understand why his party is about to get shellacked? This much:

WEST NEWTON, Mass.—President Barack Obama said Americans' "fear and frustration" is to blame for an intense midterm election cycle that threatens to derail the Democratic agenda.

"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared," Obama said Saturday evening in remarks at a small Democratic fundraiser Saturday evening. "And the country's scared." […]

He faulted the economic downturn for Americans' inability to "think clearly" and said the burden is on Democrats "to break through the fear and the frustration people are feeling."

As Nick Gillespie mentioned earlier this morning, the thing you'll notice absent from this formulation is any hint whatsoever that this frustration may have been caused in part by federal policies that failed to deliver on their promises of private-sector job growth, contained unemployment, and summers/Summers of recovery. Instead, as detailed in this weekend's big New York Times Magazine profile of Obama, you have a braintrust (and arguably a broad swath of the Democratic Party) utterly convinced of its own moral, scientific, and historical certainty, plagued only by doubts about its salesmanship. Excerpts from that:

"Given how much stuff was coming at us," Obama told me, "we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who's occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can't be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion." […]

The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra: Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history. He prevented another Great Depression while putting in place the foundation for a more stable future. But it required him to do unpopular things that would inevitably cost him.  […]

Gov. Ed Rendell  of Pennsylvania, though, is among the Democrats who grade Obama harshly for not being more nimble in the face of opposition. "B-plus, A-minus on substantive accomplishments," he told me, "and a D-plus or C-minus on communication." The health care legislation is "an incredible achievement" and the stimulus program was "absolutely, unqualifiedly, enormously successful," in Rendell's judgment, yet Obama allowed them to be tarnished by critics. "They lost the communications battle

He prevented another Great Depression while putting in place the foundation for a more stable future. But it required him to do unpopular things that would inevitably cost him.

on both major initiatives, and they lost it early," said Rendell[.] […]

[F]or all the second-guessing, what you do not hear in the White House is much questioning of the basic elements of the program — Obama aides, liberal and moderate alike, reject complaints from the right that the stimulus did not help the economy or that health care expands government too much, as well as complaints from the left that he should have pushed for a bigger stimulus package or held out for a public health care option. […]

Instead, what you hear Obama aides talking about is that the system is "not on the level." That's a phrase commonly used around the West Wing — "it's not on the level." By that, they mean the Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems. The challenge, as they see it, is how to rise above a town that can obsess for a week on whether an obscure Agriculture Department official in Georgia should have been fired. At the same time, as Emanuel told me, "We have to play the game."

As Brands, the historian, put it, "It'll be really interesting to see if a president who is thinking long term can have an impact on a political system that is almost irredeemably short term in its perspective."

The reaction from these folks on Nov. 3 sure is going to be interesting.