President Obama may have trouble winning over the voters one more time, but the liberal historians are still entranced. On Monday night’s Charlie Rose show on PBS, former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham said Obama is divisive despite being a “raging moderate” and expressed disappointment that he’s not as “strong a character in the life of the country as his greatest predecessors have been.”
But historians Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, and Robert Caro described how engaging and calm he is, how "you feel emotionally connected to him," and he creates "great conversation." Caro even said these historian chats have convinced him Obama's going to "win and have a wonderful second term."
Meacham is honest enough to realize out loud that Obama's presidential reality has not matched the historical hyperbole of all those gooey Newsweek covers he approved in the last campaign. Despite all the liberal propaganda, Obama is failing to connect. But the historians told Meacham to chill out:
JON MEACHAM: Well, I think Obama is-- like several of his predecessors -- such an incredibly divisive figure in a way that I think his capacity to divide is not quite commensurate with what’s there. You know he’s seen as a raving socialist by one side. The left feels he’s something of a sellout.
And you have a man who I think is safely described as a raging moderate in many ways, who still, bizarrely given his self-evident skills as a writer, probably one of the best writers we've ever had in the presidency and as a -- as a speaker he has, I think oddly not connected on an emotional level with the country in any kind of ongoing way. I do not think he’s -- I don’t think he’s as strong a character in the life of the country as his greatest predecessors have been.
ROBERT CARO: Unless -- unless, Jon, you think that he has such a long view and he`s so calm and he knows exactly where he’s going. Which I find easy to believe because the one thing we know about President Obama -- and Michael and I have been at these dinners for historians is he`s really read -- no one -- you can fool a writer about almost anything. You can't fool him about whether he`s read your books. And he's read them...so I think he has a long historic view and he might be thinking of this presidency in terms of eight years and he`s on the calm, focused course.
Obama certainly passed the exam of convincing liberal historians that he's read their books (and by inference, uses their wisdom at the office).
CARO: With Obama you feel when he comes into the room -- and at this table he’s like one of the guys. He’s read history. He’s talking about history with historians. There’s a wonderful sense -- and it’s why I think he`s going to have -- win and have a wonderful second term. There’s a wonderful sense of who he is and there’s a calmness to him, I feel. And I think that you know, you come away from those dinners and your wife says “what was it like?” You say, you know, “It was just a great conversation.” And --
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No, you’re absolutely right. And I think -- I think what`s so impressive is that he's very warm in those settings, number one. So you do feel emotionally connected to him --
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: You're absolutely right.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes.
GOODWIN: But -- but more importantly, if he notices that somebody hasn`t spoken, he asks that person a question. If you’ve said something, he picks up on what you’ve said to make you feel like you might have said something important. So in that kind of a setting -- which was why he was so good at that Republican summit, remember when he had that? I've often thought if he could replicate the round table kind of settings more where he's just one of a group of people talking it`s much better for him than that teleprompter where he looks so disconnected from us. That’s the setting that works for him the best.
Since this is PBS, there was a small measure of Fox-bashing and Limbaugh-bashing.
James Fallows, a former editor of U.S. News & World Report and speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, complained there's too much partisanship keeping Obama from his accomplishments. "of course, Obama`s health plan was a Republican idea to start with and the idea of these individual mandates and all the rest. And he has been as accommodating as he could have been on a lot of these things but it just -- it doesn`t register at all."
Why? "I think the modern opinion machine, largely in the person of Roger Ailes, that`s something that our future will be writing about too -- just creating a narrative that really is different from even FDR and Johnson had their haters but it wasn`t as established as this."
Jon Meacham agreed that Republicans are too afraid of being "primaried" by Tea Party types: "It`s this sort of Rush Limbaugh astro turf all around the country where every district has their talk show host. And if you're an incumbent member of Congress and you reach out and you don`t stick to the orthodoxy you`re going to get killed every afternoon. And that`s going to encourage somebody to primary you. It becomes expensive. It becomes embarrassing. So suddenly you find why the hell stray from the orthodoxy when I'm just going to pay for it."