Kevin Drum: I Didn’t Believe the Obama Hype, and Neither Did Obama

Many of the claims made for, and sometimes by, Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign were amazingly lofty, hyperbolic, or both, even by political standards. Remember the columnist who speculated that Obama might be “a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being…who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet”? Remember Obama’s own “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”?

In a Wednesday post, Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum asserted that back then, at least two persons weren’t riding the Obama wave. One was Drum himself, who felt conservatives made Obama out to be much more messianic-sounding than he was. Drum thought the Obama of ’08 was a typical Democrat who gave “soaring speeches” because “[t]hat's what presidential candidates do.” Now, however, Drum sees that “millions of Obama voters really believed all that boilerplate rhetoric.”

The other was Obama. “[O]nce he was in office,” Drum remarked, “it's not as if Obama acted like he believed his campaign-trail rhetoric. He hired a bunch of pretty ordinary staffers and got to work passing pretty ordinary legislation.”

From Drum’s post (emphasis added):

Noam Scheiber has a piece in the current issue of the New Republic about Hillary Clinton's imminent takeover of the Democratic Party,and today Ezra Klein interviewed him about it. Klein was especially interested in the argument that Obama's 2008 supporters were so disillusioned by Obama's failure to change Washington that they're now eager to support an old-school politico like Hillary. Here's Scheiber:

Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton made this kind of snide, but in retrospect apt, critique of Obama where she said that Obama thinks he'll get to Washington and the heavens will part and the Republicans will cooperate, but that just won't happen. So I asked some of these Obama supporters if she was right. And a lot of these people remembered those comments and being annoyed by them. But they all said she was actually a bit right. We were a bit naive then, they said. People used the word naive a lot in these conversations.

I'm not sure I've ever fully fessed up to this, so this is as good a time as any. For years, I really didn't believe the conservative snark about how Obama supporters all thought he would descend on Washington like a god-king and miraculously turn us into a post-racial, post-partisan, post-political country. Kumbaya! The reason I didn't believe it was that it never struck me as even remotely plausible. Did Obama give soaring speeches? Sure, he's a politician. Did he promise to change the way Washington works? Sure, he's a politician. Did he promise to pass historic legislation in dozens of different areas? Sure, he's a politician.

It just never occurred to me that anyone took this stuff seriously. It's a presidential campaign! Of course he's promising a chicken in every pot. That's what presidential candidates do. I believed then, and still believe now, that Obama is basically a mainstream Democrat who's cautious, pragmatic, technocratic, and incremental. In fact, that seemed so obvious to me that I never really credited the idea that anyone could seriously see him any differently.

Well, I guess that was naive on my part. By now, the evidence is clear that millions of Obama voters really believed all that boilerplate rhetoric. Naturally, then, they're bitterly disappointed at the real-world Obama. Well, I'm disappointed in some ways too—mostly in the areas of foreign policy and national security—but I continue to think he's a pretty good president because my expectations were tempered to begin with.

Nor do I think Hillary would have done any better. Probably worse, I'd say. After all, once he was in office, it's not as if Obama acted like he believed his campaign-trail rhetoric. He hired a bunch of pretty ordinary staffers and got to work passing pretty ordinary legislation…

I have pretty mixed feelings about a Hillary Clinton candidacy. On the one hand, I've long admired her obviously sincere dedication to public service in the face of abuse that would destroy a weaker person. On the other hand, another Clinton?...

…If [Hillary] runs and wins, she'll be dealing with exactly the same kind of Republican obstructionism as Obama—and she'll have just as much trouble getting anything done.

If disappointed Dems really want to change things, they have only one option: figure out a way to take back Congress in 2016. That's it. Until and unless that happens, George Washington himself wouldn't be any more effective than Obama has been.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters