Obama loses the Left: suddenly, it’s cool to bash Barack
Europe still worships him and Washington’s Obamatrons remain smitten, but former supporters are turning on the President, writes Toby Harnden.
Published: 3:07PM BST 05 Jun 2010
Well, at least he’s still got Sir Paul McCartney. At the White House last week, the 67-year-old crooner was gushing in much the same manner as his own groupies did at Shea Stadium in 1965. “I’m a big fan, he’s a great guy,” McCartney told American critics of President Barack Obama. “So lay off him, he’s doing great.”
Later, McCartney serenaded the First Lady with a rendition of Michelle and, receiving a prize from the Library of Congress, took a cheap shot at President George W Bush that was as unfunny as it was unoriginal. “After the last eight years, it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is.” Bush. Doesn’t read books. Stupid. Geddit?
The problem for the President is that even if the former Beatle does speak for billions, the overwhelming majority of those are overseas. Polls show that around 10 per cent of those who voted for Obama in 2008 now disapprove of his performance and the heavy turnout of young people and black voters among the 69 million who back him will not be repeated again.
McCartney’s banalities were an example of a transatlantic dissonance that is all too apparent these days. Whereas Europe is stuck in November 2008 and still hopelessly in love with Obama, Americans have got over the historic symbolism of it all and are now moving on as they live with the reality.
That reality has now begun to dawn on some of Obama’s natural constituency – Hollywood and the Left. The “no drama Obama” demeanour that served him so well on the campaign trail is now becoming a liability.
Bemoaning Obama’s passivity after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the director Spike Lee thundered: “He’s very calm, cool, collected. But, one time, go off! If there’s any one time to go off, this is it, because this is a disaster.”
This is the same Spike Lee who once described Obama’s election as a “seismic” change that represented “a better day not only for the United States but for the world”.
The ladies of The View, the liberal-dominated morning talk show moderated by Whoopi Goldberg, spent a lot of time last week sympathising with Mrs Obama about how difficult it must be to argue with a husband who never shows any fire or emotion.
Even the liberal chattering classes are deserting Obama. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times jeered that his “Yes we can” slogan had been downgraded to “Will we ever?”, while fellow colunnist Frank Rich blasted his “recurrent tardiness in defining exactly what he wants done”.
Perhaps Obama’s toughest critic over the BP oil slick has been James “Rajin’ Cajun” Carville, the mastermind of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and one of those Democrats who represents the beating heart of the party. He blasted Obama’s “political stupidity” and “hands off” attitude, concluding: “It seems the President is madder at his critics than he is at BP.”
His point was proved when Robert Gibbs, Obama’s hyper-aggressive spokesman, responded: “I don’t think James understands all of what we’re doing. I don’t think James understood the facts.” Carville is a Louisiana native who had spent more time viewing the oil-soaked coastal wetlands than anyone in the White House.
It is an irony of Obama’s presidency – which came into being because he was the unBush – that it shares some of the worst traits of his predecessor’s administration. Among these are insularity and a blinkered arrogance.
The young Texans who seemed genetically incapable of viewing any criticism of George W Bush as less than treason may have gone but a similar cult has replaced them. The Obamatrons who now populate Washington have iPads under their arms and greet each other with fist bumps. Earnest, geeky types, they look upon anyone who does not worship Obama with pity – such a being must be too stupid or bigoted to know better.
Obama has never been wracked by self-doubt and he is unusually self-contained for a politician. He seems not to need people or reassurance. In office, this is dangerous – he sometimes seems to be living in a cocoon.
The White House’s attempts to deal criticisms of Obama’s detachment have been comical. First there was Obama’s own cringeworthy (and doubtless bogus) anecdote about his 11-year-old daughter Malia asking: “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?” Then there was Gibbs illustrating Obama’s passionate concern for the people of the Gulf by relating that he had said “damn” and exhibited a “clenched jaw”.
Perhaps their biggest problem is that it was not just McCartney’s dyed hair and 1960s songs that seemed so retro. His adulation of Obama struck the wrong chord because few outside the White House bubble are in that place any more. It is now permissible – even fashionable – to have a go at the man once hailed as the Messiah.