Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

How Do You Like Barack Obama Now? A Conversation

New York Times political reporter Jodi Kantor's The Obamas arrived in paperback yesterday, so we gathered some people to talk about Barack Obama: the man, the president, the person, the dog enthusiast, the man who kills people with drones.

78 Comments / Post A Comment

sharilyn (#4,599)

This was so thoughtful and informative, thank you.

I was watching the Olympics with friends in upstate NY last night when a Obama '12 campaign commercial came on. Suddenly we all started talking about how wonderful his voice is and the strength of his personal charisma. We're all liberals/journalists anyway but it always interests me how much even very educated, objective people tend to vote for the person "most likeable".

Leon (#6,596)

"Comments sections – should we have them or not?"
"Here is a comments section presented as an article!"

Leon (#6,596)

@Leon Saint-Jean – I mean, I obvs like comments sections, and love reading from all of these people, so I enjoyed it. I'm just commenting because I'm an asshole.

@Leon Saint-Jean : I'm going to start posting entire thinkpieces in my comments, thus hastening the site's transformation into BIZARRO AWL.

dj pomegranate (#201,598)

"Michelle is so far and away the best that she makes Jackie Kennedy look like a Lucille Bluth action figure." Truth.

Annie K. (#3,563)

I still like him, and I'll vote for him because he's likeable. Not meaning that I'd rather have him over for dinner than Mitt (which, jeez), but that as the conversers above said, he's such an interesting combination of pragmatic and idealistic, of an inside politician and an outside watcher, that I like him. And as other conversers said, how to judge his presidency when we don't understand what he's up against? The only way I can think of is, I have a sense of who he is and I like him.

metoometoo (#230)

I am deeply disappointed about the usual things like drones and banks, but due to my involvement in California's medical cannabis industry, I have come to basically loath Obama.

(Yes, cannabis is a silly, insignificant, low-priority issue, except for when you are actually seeing severely ill people lose access to medicine that makes their lives livable, or lose a business they worked for years to create with the sincere goal of helping people, while all the relevant scientific research is dismissed with a sneer, and not because of horrible evil Republicans but because of pharmaceutical $$$.)

If there were any risk that California could go to Romney, I guess I would grit my teeth and vote for Obama, but as it is I will be very pleased to give my vote to Jill Stein.

Sean Lai (#14,158)

@metoometoo You probably know more about this than most of us, and I'm curious – didn't he say he would ease up on DEA raids, and then proceed to be worse than the previous administration? Prosecutorial discretion is another one of these things that is basically the sole prerogative of the executive, too, so that could REALLY be his fault.

On the other hand, he may have used more frequent DEA raids as a bargaining chip for something else that he wanted. I'm always curious about what kind of horse-trading goes on.

metoometoo (#230)

@Sean Lai Yes, that is correct. He claimed that he would not use federal power to interfere with patients and businesses in compliance with state law, and has done the exact opposite. Federal prosecutors are doing absolutely everything possible to crush medical cannabis in California, and are focusing their attention on businesses that are the best examples of what a clean, legitimate, well-regulated industry could look like.

am4 (#235,425)

@metoometoo I too despise him and will vote Green in November. My vote doesn't matter because I live in NY. His championing of the banks is his most unpardonable act, to me. His persecution of the medical marijuana providers and his flippant, disrespectful dismissal of legitimate questions about the morality of the war on marijuana are disgusting. An arrogant, vile opportunist. Regarding the "journalists" quoted above, it's fascinating to see them act essentially as sycophants and fan boy/girls. Michelle's aura is so huge!! And W's package was so huge!! Embarrassing.

laurel (#4,035)

I'm disappointed that there's been no movement on climate change regulation but given our utterly recalcitrant, crazypants Congress, I don't blame him alone. I'm still amazed he got traction on health care when the Clintons couldn't. Given the alternative, I'll definitely vote for him, if only to keep Romney from the opportunity to appoint judges.

I'll always like him for the Alfred E. Smith Dinner, especially the part about his middle name (7:40). Dude can tell a joke.

This was a great piece, btw.

boysplz (#9,812)

@laurel There was some movement on climate change, Nancy Pelosi got the house to pass a cap and trade bill! It promptly died in the Senate but it's always fun to remember what might have been. This is really neither here nor there except to point out the Pelosi is a badass and should always be remembered as being a super effective speaker.

laurel (#4,035)

@boysplz: Thanks for this, yes.

@boysplz : And can we point out how Harry Reid is totally bringing bare-knuckle politics back into style? Oh I think we can. Harry Reid, you magnificent practitioner of "stop hitting yourself! stop hitting yourself!"

Sean Lai (#14,158)

Great conversation – and I'd like to echo the sentiment that it seems odd to talk about how "likable" a person is who I've never met, even though it seems like that's what will probably give Obama a big boost come election time. Like, how do we know Obama is as cool as he seems? Maybe in secret, he's as shifty as Nixon.

On a more serious note, I also want to push back a little on the idea that there wasn't much Obama could do as President. For many things, that's obviously and totally true: see, e.g., trying to get any legislation passed, ever. But there are many things that are exclusively in the President's wheelhouse – like the OLC's stance on executive power, quasi-war operations around the world, drone strikes in Af-Pak, and indefinite detention – that Obama could theoretically change. Of course, he might not have the political capital to make those changes, or might not care about them because the American people don't seem to care, which are much deeper problems in the U.S. political system that possibly have no solution.

I guess I'm torn between knowing that he had the legal power to unilaterally change some of these things and wanting to hold him to account for that, and knowing that anyone who could win the Presidency is a mainstream-enough figure that s/he wouldn't do something like 'not kill people with flying death robots' unless a large mass of voters made clear that's what they wanted.

Mr. B (#10,093)

For me, the sad takeaway here is that Nicole subscribes to conspiracy theories propagated by Breitbart's website. :(

Mr. B (#10,093)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Ha, well, there's still a pretty big gap between "no indictments yet" and "deliberate failure … to investigate" (not to mention the absurd charge of cronyism — Justice investigators are career employees, not politicians), which requires a great deal of wishful extrapolation to bridge. And even if they all do suspect Corzine etc., they still etc. evidence etc. grand jury etc. Which, etc.

shawn (#1,859)

@Mr. B the fact that Nicole's reason for not liking the president is a single criminal charge stemming from activity less than a year old is so bugfuck I don't know where to start.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@shawn I'm more confused about how she removed her response without a trace. Is this a special power Awl Pals get?

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

I think the dude is awesome. I like him the same as I did 4 years ago, which is a lot. Yes, I'm not thrilled with a lot of the above mentioned negatives but to be a blind apologist for him, I really believe that he is trying his best to help out the poor, working class, and middle class (if there is such a thing anymore). He's rich right? And when he said that he thinks he should pay his fair share (paraphrasing), I was like "right on bro". I hope he gets reelected and goes off. "You wanna call me a socialist, I don't see anything wrong with socialism, I'll show you socialism!" That's my pipe dream, but to echo other comments, a majority democratic Congress would obviously make a huge difference.

Does it all come down to who you'd rather have a beer with? God I'd love to have a beer with Barack.

@whizz_dumb : I'm with you there. I'll admit that I got a little frisson when he just -owned- the derogatory "Obamacare" term in that one speech. He's all "you want to call it Obamacare — that’s okay, because I do care." And now he uses the term all the time, just to rub it in.

Occasionally I think "damn, I can't believe our president is just drone-striking dudes all over the place" but then I think about the number of times a day I would call in a drone strike on someone and I have to concede that he's actually being pretty restrained. I mean, considering the temptation that must exist to just use drone-strikes for everything, like disrupting arms shipments to unstable countries or taking out his political opponents or even just making the lady in front of me at Whole Foods hurry the heck up with the credit card swiper … well, he's handling the temptation a lot better than I probably would, is all I'm saying.

robxerox (#235,722)

He's the fucking president. Couldn't he use his bully pulpit to NOT be totally full of shit? Speak out against torture maybe? How can you people like him?

@robxerox I'd rather have a President that spends his energy doing things than "speaking out" against practices that he cannot really change. If you're saying you want the U.S. to stop torturing people, then fine but asking him to use the bully pulpit to speak out against things is pointless.

robxerox (#235,722)

@French Linton@twitter Why is telling the truth pointless?

robxerox (#235,722)

@French Linton@twitter He's one of the only people in the world that actually COULD make a difference by going on television and telling the truth, but that's pointless right? So what is the point of anything? No one can change anything right? Not even the president of the United States!

robxerox (#235,722)

@French Linton@twitter Why speak out ever against anything? If I hear someone saying something racist I should just be quiet right? I can't change anything! No one can! Not even the president! Let's vote for him again! His wife is classy and he planted an organic garden!1!11!!!11 Who cares about all those people our tax money is paying to torture. They don't have a voice.

Sean Lai (#14,158)

@French Linton@twitter When the President just says some stuff, this does actually have an impact on the political climate. We can look to his recent marriage equality "evolution" for an example.

Of course, that moment was basically a victory for marriage equality advocates, demonstrating their strength. I think the real limitation on the Presidency isn't Congress, its the vetting process that puts people in the White House. Maybe Obama really is a dedicated left-liberal – but by the time he gets to the Oval Office, his world is so wholly defined by opinion polls, campaign donations, and horse-trading that he forgets what he has the literal/legal power to change, and can only imagine what he can change without getting hit too hard in the polls/coffers.

@robxerox Your time is much less valuable to me (and the rest of America) than the President's time. If you feel like speaking out against torture is something that needs to be done, then by all means go out and do it. Raise the profile of some cause that you care about. Speak out against racism and torture. When you can raise the public's attention enough to make politicians respond, then we as a country will have decided that the President's time is indeed worth taking on these topics. Until such time it's a waste of time. It's on you to make it worthy of attention.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Hear, hear. The bully pulpit is effective ONLY to the extent that the people will unite before it and vote, write letters, scream at their congressmen and so on. Obama doesn't operate in a vacuum. There are 535 congressional cats to herd! Interest groups and lobbies of every description! It's your prerogative to refuse to vote if you can't stand him, obviously, but it seems futile to compare any political candidate to some ideal magical mystery candidate of your dreams that we are never going to get. Compare him or her to the available options, and then make your choice.

C_Webb (#855)

@barnhouse YES THANK YOU. And if the whiners aren't actively working to help the people who most closely resemble their magical mystery candidates*, but just being holier than thou, they can STFU.

*This does not include sucking Ralph Nader's withering dick.

robxerox (#235,722)

And all these people who are like, maybe in the second term he'll be honest and great!? Why not the first term?

deepomega (#1,720)

@robxerox Uhhh because you only have to get re-elected after the first?

robxerox (#235,722)

@deepomega You don't HAVE to get reelected. You could do the right thing after you get elected the first time.

@robxerox Because the reality is that in order to actually accomplish anything you need to be in office for eight years, and in order to do that you need to win after four, and in order to do that you have to compromise?

When you don't have to govern to win another term (and thus preserve what you've accomplished) you'll see much more risk taking.

robxerox (#235,722)

@French Linton@twitter So when he wins he's going to suddenly stop being totally full of shit. I look forward to seeing that.

@robxerox You sound very naive about the nature of what a politician is. They're all full of shit. The trick is finding the one who who's values most closely align with your own, and who knows where to compromise to accomplish a goal. If that person isn't the President then vote against him. Just please explain to me who you think would do a better job that has any prayer of being elected.

robxerox (#235,722)

@French Linton@twitter You sound very naive in that you think you puny little vote matters. REAL WORLD.

@robxerox My vote doesn't matter because I don't live in a swing state. I do donate my money though, and that does make a difference.

@French Linton@twitter : Hear hear. I like to think that my (DOLLAR VALUE REDACTED) political contribution bought at least one vote. Preferably of one of those fabled "undecided" voters who, seriously, I never see anyone taking more than 10 seconds to make up their mind at McDonalds, c'mon you are seriously just fucking with the pollsters when you say "oh, I'm undecided," right?

Alternate take : marking down voters as "undecided" is just pollsters engaging in good marketing. "But there are some UNDECIDED VOTERS THEY COULD MAKE THE DIFFERENCE STAY TUUUUUUUNED!"

I never, at any point, was even remotely moved by this dude and his speeches. Does this mean I was doing it wrong?

It always just made me feel sad for all my friends that were so enraptured whenever he was on TV.

Astigmatism (#1,950)

I can't stand my wife's grad student friends' opposition to Obama. Maybe they're too young, but "Health care reform sucks because there isn't a public option" is the political equivalent of Cartman saying that his mom f@cked him for only being willing to buy him the $499 iPad. There are tens of millions of Americans without health insurance, the guy got the biggest expansion of health care coverage in 50 years through a Senate willing to filibuster everything short of naming a post office, and people are outraged that he didn't go twice as big? Sure, I'd love to win the lottery as much as the next guy, but that doesn't stop me from going to work.

And sure, I'd love to stop drone strikes too, but getting us out of Iraq and a foot out of the door in Afghanistan sounds a lot better than Mr. Let's-nuke-Iran-because-Bibi-and-I-were-consulting-douches-together.

"Art of the possible" only sounds bad if you don't put it next to "Daydreaming about the impossible."

Sean Lai (#14,158)

@Astigmatism The SOFA with Iraq that was signed under the Bush Administration is what caused the Iraq drawdown. And the Obama administration pushed the Iraqi administration to let us leave more troops there, but they held firm.

Also he increased troops in Afghanistan and has expanded semi-war in Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, so, yeah.

You're right, of course, that Obama was better than McCain, and is better than Romney. But we shouldn't whitewash him just because we're gonna vote for him.

@Astigmatism Seriously. I swear that some liberals (usually those who have never worked in the real world or not lived somewhere in the middle of the country) don't understand the concept of political will. I am impressed we got what we did. It effectively paved the path so that SOMEDAY we will have a public option. If you can't see how that's progress, then I don't know what to tell you. Is it perfect? Nope. Is it much better than it was? By an order of magnitude. I'll finally be able to get shoulder surgery now so I can't play catch with my kid for longer than five minutes without my arm going numb.

Poubelle (#214,283)

@Astigmatism I'm young and I don't even get my peers. What were they planning on doing when they finished school? Is their health so much better than mine that they never considered what it meant to go without coverage? Are they still in the teenage "I'm invincible" phase where car accidents and freak health scares only happen to other people? Do they think jobs with good health benefits exist for everyone? (the economy turned when Bush was still in office, so I really want to know about that last bit.)

What do I know, I'm just the artsy weirdo who's actually pursuing her creative dreams because the law means I don't have to worry about finding my own health coverage until I'm 26 (at which point the exchanges will have kicked in–nice timing, Mr. President).

(I'm also a lady who'd like to maybe marry another lady some day, so that's keeping me from voting for the party that seems full of people who hate me on both counts.)

robxerox (#235,722)

If the president has no power to do anything. What does my one vote do?

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@robxerox You're right. You should probably just complain a bunch and not vote. That's productive.

@whizz_dumb : … but make sure to complain on the Internet. That always increases the power of the complaint.

I think I'm being sarcastic.

theheckle (#621)

Honestly, I can't be bothered to worry that he failed to achieve all the stuff he said he'd achieve that policy people realized he'd never achieve.

What gets me is his inability to get at huge issues of inequality and unfairness for which the US government is responsible. Things like: landmines, foreign aid, global poverty policy, free trade. Stuff like that.

Then I can't believe that he hired as his staff the very people who designed and supported things like the banking system and Gitmo.

Still, I really do feel that he's making and succeeding at the incremental change that IS possible…and is all that is possible in a political climate such as this.

From our political decision-makers, I'd prefer mixed-scanning. But, I'm only going to get satisficing and I better get used to it.

robxerox (#235,722)

Here's a serious question. If he wins a second term. Why COULDN'T he just be totally honest? Wouldn't that be a good thing? Does anyone have an answer to this besides "politicians can't be honest"? After he wins he could do whatever he wants right? So why wouldn't he just be honest?

@robxerox : Here's a serious question : do you know how hard it is to follow your comments when you don't hit the REPLY>> link?

Granted, it's balanced out by you saying virtually the same thing in each post, so keep on keepin' on.

robxerox (#235,722)

Like he should say "I lied just to win and get all the idiots votes. Fuck you all! Socialism time! Let's try this public option! You're all idiots! Torture is wrong but I can't stop it I'm only the president!"

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@robxerox Maybe. MAYBE.

cherrispryte (#444)

I like the President just about as much as I did when I voted for him. I was saying 4 years ago, though, that even his absolute best is going to be seen as disappointing, because there's always going to be so much more that needs to be done (see: Gitmo, banking, etc.)

At the same time, if we're talking about 'like' and 'dislike'? I so very deeply hate Republicans these days, exponentially more than I did 4 years ago (and I did not have very positive feelings about them then!) Mostly related to women's rights and the economy, but also many other things.

Rod T (#33)

@cherrispryte I was wondering if anyone else was thinking what I was thinking and there you are.

@cherrispryte : Can I steal these two paragraphs for my next cocktail party conversation? Because, basically yes.

ericdeamer (#945)

What a weird conversation. First you've got the one person proudly saying she's not a news junkie or not a political junkie or whatever and making some excuse that made it sound like she was proud of her ignorance. So, um, why are you participating in this? Then you've got the other one claiming a vote for a Libertarian i.e. a vote to further increase oligarchic power, further screw over poor people etc. is somehow "benign." And then there's the whole subject of the thing to begin with. Do you "like" Obama? What does it even mean to like or not like some public official? What kind of Maureen Dowdish superficial nonsense is this. It's this whole American thing where choosing a president is this weirdo identity politics thing or more like dating or something. Does he "get me"?/Does he "share my values"?/Would I like to have a beer with him? Sure I like Obama. He's likable. That's his thing. He's certainly more likable than Romney, a guy so unlikable his own political supporters can barely stand him, but so what? Did Obama live up to the rhetoric or promise of his campaign? No. Did he do the best he could do against insane Republican opposition? Maybe. Would a Romney presidency be a disaster that would further irrevocably fuck up what's left of this country? Yes. That's all that matters.

hockeymom (#143)

@ericdeamer I had such a different reaction. I read the above and thought it was interesting and thoughtful. At the end, I wondered what it would have been like to have included Glenn Greenwald.

Sean Lai (#14,158)

@ericdeamer In a loose sense I agree, but I liked the conversation because it turns out that "likeability" is a big deal in American politics (especially Presidential politics), and so it was interesting to me to see what people had to say. Like you (I think?), I do not think about a politician's likeability at all, so it was a bit like peering into another world. A world that has an enormous effect on yours and mine.

ericdeamer (#945)

@hockeymom I don't mean to come off all hot and heavy. The main parts that got me worked up were Nicole Cliffe's and Sarah Miller's contributions, though I see Sarah called out Nicole for the libertarianism is benign thing so good for her. There were just so many weird parts. I think people are totally misremembering the whole Barack vs. Hilary dynamic for instance. There would not be nearly this much insanity on the right versus a Hilary Clinton presidency. When Hilary and Obama were locked in that primary fight she somehow became this hero on the right. She was the tough, Scots Irish woman who was saving us from the scary black man. Even my mom, a deranged Fox News watching right winger in her 70s who in the 90s thought Hilary was satan bought into this narrative. Fox News hired the "unqualified black male" shouty old lady Hilary supporter as a commentator. Obama hate has gone far beyond Clinton hate, which is the ultimate proof of the right's racism.

Anonymoose (#235,202)

@ericdeamer Yeah, but in the counterfactual world all the fire would be aimed at Hillary. And instead of "Scary Black Man" we have "Scary Feminazi Lady"- which may not have been as bad in some ways but would probably have been just as frustrating in others.

Danzig! (#5,318)

I sweat this stuff because believe you me, dudes, the Tea Party bullshit is gonna get worse, so much worse. The conservative movement has been conditioning and purifying itself consistently since the failure of the Contract With America at the hands of moderates in the Senate.

The idea that we might have even 2 years of consecutive conservative governance in the Congress and the Oval Office is scary as hell, and now that Ted Cruz is on his way to the Senate, it seems as though it might be inevitable (dude cannot run for the presidency, thankfully, but as entrenched conservative powermongers go he could very well make Tom DeLay look like a fucking vegetable). It seems incredibly unlikely that, faced with the do-nothing nature of government when the Congress is hopelessly divided, the people will bring the Democrats to full power. That's certainly not the media narrative. We'll have the Republicans at full strength again before anything else. It might even happen in 3 months' time.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@Danzig! Suffice to say, when that happens we'll find ourselves suddenly nostalgic even for the days of GWB.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Danzig! You say sooth, bwana. On the other hand: Mitt Romney!! A receding tide sinks all boats, with any luck at all.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Danzig! I am nostalgic for W. It's a bit scary when he seems like a reasonable guy compared with all the batsh*t ideologically pure dingwalls who've come out of the Republican woodwork in the last 4 years.

hman (#53)

I'm volunteering a hefty amount of my time to the President because I like him even more this year than in 2008 – he has not embarrassed himself by going bowling since then and has done so much that is right and just.

robxerox (#235,722)

Arguing with these Obama apologists is like arguing with your asshole uncle. They just know in his heart of hearts Obama is doing his very best to do the right thing/secretly a Muslim.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@robxerox You've consistently misunderstood what's being said, here. Obama's intentions, whatever they may be, do not make policy and are therefore of little interest to activists, progressive or otherwise. If you want to alter your political circumstances, even voting isn't enough. Only joining with others in direct involvement can make a difference.

robxerox (#235,722)

@robxerox I agree with you 100% except for the misunderstanding part.

robxerox (#235,722)

@robxerox Anyway, it's not like I don't prefer Obama to the alternative, or even begrudge people for voting for him over the republicans, especially in swing states. I just don't understand why people actually still LIKE the guy, rather than just holding their nose and voting for him at best.

amysee (#236,855)

Reading the discussion of Obama's broken promises/surprise at the way the presidency really works (depending on POV) has me thinking about how much he has worked as a community organizer as president.

I think the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a good example of this. There was a lot of fury from the left about, Why didn't he just do it by executive order? But a community organizer wouldn't go straight to, say, a city council member herself and lobby that person to make a decision. She'd talk to the community about what their concerns are and then facilitate a (frustratingly long, possibly) series of conversations that develop a campaign, bring people together etc. all with the community members themselves making the decisions and providing the leadership. The organizer stands in the background.

In the DADT situation I think Obama was trying to community organize the military, which obviously was alienating for the LGBTQ & allied groups that worked so hard for his election. And I'm not sure if being the guy in the background laying out the snack trays and making sure everyone is heard before the vote is taken is always the best model of leadership for the presidency. But it is interesting.

@amysee I have a lot of family in the military. When I spoke to them about the repeal of DADT, they told me that the only way it would happen is if you allowed the military to do it their way. I think giving them the space to do it the way they wanted to do it is ultimately going to make it more successful in the long term than what would have been seen as a liberal forcing the military to do something they did not want to do.

The other problem is that if the WH had done it by executive order, it would have been easily reversed by any President further down the line. I think this speaks to something I said upthread about liberals not understanding the concept of political will. Years from now, is anyone going to remember how LONG it took or whether it was done?

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mans3809 (#247,731)

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