De-Bunked Theories on President Obama and Writers who are Past Their Day


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I’m always amused when I see Reagan era figures brought on television or into print as “expert pundits” in Washington. I mean, I get that they made it to the White House, so they deserve some respect, but it was a different era than today. Today’s GOP doesn’t agree with them on a lot of core issues. Today’s Democratic Party isn’t Tip O’Neill’s. National elections are a lot different than they were in the 1980s, in no small part because they are a lot less white. Things have changed a lot since they were in the White House.

So of course, I was amused by Peggy Noonan’s piece yesterday about Joe Biden and Donald Trump, mostly because it told me more about her view of President Obama. She nailed some of her analysis of the Democratic contest, but still bombed some parts of it. She bombed her analysis of the Trump candidacy. Then she wrote this:

The only thing I feel certain of is how we got here. There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar. He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window.

This is her explanation for how Donald Trump became an acceptable candidate. It’s wrong for several reasons:

  1. Yes, Barack Obama was young for a President, and perhaps had less lines on his resume than many others, but we haven’t been electing Lyndon Johnson for a while in America. From Jimmy Carter forward, the only two Presidents we’ve elected with experience in Congress were President Obama and President George H.W. Bush. President George W. Bush came into office with six years experience as Governor of Texas. President Reagan had only served as Governor of California and President Clinton as Governor and Attorney General of Arkansas. Yes, Senator Obama had served only a couple of terms in the Illinois Senate, and four years in the U.S. Senate, but he’s not really an outlier in that sense.
  2. The rise of Donald Trump has less to do with President Obama than it does with the waves of freshman Republicans in Congress in 2010 and 2014. The best way to explain this came to me from a Republican hack who told me that the difference between 2010 and 1994 was that the 1994 wave was a bunch of Mayors and State Legislators coming to Congress, and 2010 was a bunch of outsiders that were true-believers. In this group weren’t people with government resumes, which is driving why they are more confrontational and less interested in governing. They are the exact mold by which the Trump candidacy has grown from.

Noonan’s “Obama came out of nowhere” notion is not grounded in reality, but it’s widespread in DC. “But he doesn’t follow our norms here” is like the rallying cry of Washington since 2009, but it’s really just code for that he called BS on most of it. Yes, President Obama has introduced some radical concepts to people from the Reagan era- like talking to Cuba and Iran. This is less because he “came from nowhere,” and more because he rejected the tired Washington group-think that dictated foreign policy. Yes, President Obama basically rejected Reagan-era terms that dictated the economic debate, but this is less because he “came from nowhere” too, and more because he realized they were tired talking points that were really just code the status quo. None of this is because President Obama was inexperienced or unprepared, or any other Noonan-esque talking point, and more so because President Obama came to the Presidency as a response to the last thirty years of American politics that preceded him. He had as much or more experience before taking the job as most of his recent peers, in so much as that experience matters at all. No one is prepared to be President before they are.

This gets back to the whole idea though that these Reagan era pundits should have remained fixtures in our political media after 2008. They shouldn’t have. They offered little insight into a changing political world, a world where the Republican coalition of voters is increasingly militant, and the Democratic coalition is increasingly less white and male, and is younger. These pundits just don’t understand what they’re watching, partially because it’s so different than their experience, and partially because they just don’t want to try to. If you’re understanding Trump’s candidacy through President Obama, you are definitely doing it wrong.

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One Response to “De-Bunked Theories on President Obama and Writers who are Past Their Day”

  1. […] I ripped Peggy Noonan a couple of days ago for her nonsense about President Obama’s inexperience “lowering the bar” on qualifications to be President. I guess she thinks her former boss Ronald Reagan was a long-time office holder before he became President. This is something worth noting though, as a pre-Watergate/post-Watergate change definitely happened in what we were looking for in Presidents. […]

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