PBS 'Washington Week' Panel: GOP Wave Not So High, Obama 'Punished for His Effectiveness'

The December 31 edition of PBS's Washington Week tried to spin the year 2010 in the most favorable way for Obama. First, Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty tried to suggest the massive Democratic losses in the House were somehow pretty conventional, yawn:

Well, I think it shook out as a pretty conventional midterm election. All year long, right up until Election Day, the Democrats kept telling us elections are really choices between two candidates and the Republicans kept saying no, this is going to be a referendum on the president. And that’s what midterms are for after presidential elections.They are often the American public kind of putting its foot on the brake just a bit.

A 63-seat loss for the Democrats? That's not so high a tidal wave. Then host Gwen Ifill suggested the electorate missed something. It was a better year for America and Obama than the voters thought:

IFILL: But it seems also that when you go back and you look at the year, which was a long year, you think about the things that actually did happen. Health care bill was passed, financial reform was passed. Even things that were incredibly unpopular like TARP and bailouts, actually a lot of that money now has been repaid. Was it a better year than we were able to see with our noses pressed to the glass?

TODD PURDUM, VANITY FAIR: I think in a hindsight it will turn out to be a better looking year than we were able to see. Obviously part of what the Republicans were reacting to is they felt President Obama got too much done. It’s not that they thought he was doing nothing or being ineffective, he’s being punished in some ways for his very effectiveness and for getting these landmark pieces of legislation through.

Time's Michael Duffy agreed that while Obama won't "accomplish" as much in 2011, that may make him more popular, but the panel didn't really conclude that liberalism was unpopular. It was "one of the paradoxes" of the new year. As usual, liberal reporters expect/hope that Republicans will be too conservative to beat Obama, and that nobody would be liberal enough to run against Obama in a primary. Purdum, a former New York Times reporter married to former Clinton press aide Dee Dee Myers, even started comparing Obama to liberal movie presidents:

TUMULTY: The Republican primary process may push the party to the right in ways that could make it more difficult for them in a general. And certainly that’s what the White House is hoping.

IFILL: Does that leave Obama with a fairly clear prance to the Democratic nomination without any Democratic challenges?

PURDUM: I don’t think he’ll get any kind of serious challenge from the left. At least, I really wouldn’t expect that. He’s really done what – in “The American President” there’s a great line where Michael J. Fox tells Michael Douglas, that high approval rating isn’t worth anything unless you take it for a spin every once in a while. And I think President Obama –

IFILL: Go to fiction – (laughter).

PURDUM: I think President Obama took his approval rating out for the biggest spin in modern American history and he got dinged up by it and he got a lot of achievements. And so I think now he’ll have to recalibrate and he’ll have to go back.

TUMULTY: And his approval, by the way, is still higher than either of the two political parties.

PURDUM: And it’s been quite steady at around 50 percent for the better part of 18 months.

That's not exactly right. You could say Obama "spent" his approval, but you can't stay his approval is steady. In June 2009, Obama's job approval/disapproval numbers in the ABC/Washington Post poll were 65 and 31. In December, they were 49/47.  Or the NBC/Wall Street Journal numbers were 56/34 in June '09, and 45/48 this December.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis