Illustration by KAL/The Economist
Cracks have begun to form in the perfect image the press long ago created of Barack Obama.
one of the fact checks on claims and statements Obama made in
Wednesday’s nationally televised healthcare press conference. The fact
that the AP and New York Times are checking is itself, newsworthy.
President Barack Obama’s assertion Wednesday that
government will stay out of health care decisions in an overhauled
system is hard to square with the proposals coming out of Congress and
with his own rhetoric.
Even now, nearly half the costs of health care in the U.S. are paid
for by government at all levels. Federal authority would only grow
under any proposal in play.
Anyone listening could hear other statements that didn’t square. Here’s one of the most obvious that leapt out:
OBAMA: ‘’You haven’t seen me out there blaming the Republicans.'’
THE FACTS: Obama did so in his opening statement, saying, ‘’I've
heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though
they may want to compromise, it’s better politics to ‘go for the kill.’
Another Republican senator said that defeating health reform is about
Now The Economist is running this analysis of signs of stress in the “Obama cult”.
Perhaps Mr Obama inwardly cringes at the personality
cult that surrounds him. But he has hardly discouraged it. As a
campaigner, he promised to “change the world”, to “transform this
country” and even (in front of a church full of evangelicals) to
“create a Kingdom right here on earth”. As president, he keeps adding
details to this ambitious wish-list. He vows to create millions of
jobs, to cure cancer and to seek a world without nuclear weapons. On
July 20th he promised something big (a complete overhaul of the
health-care system), something improbable (to make America’s
college-graduation rate the highest in the world by 2020) and something
no politician could plausibly accomplish (to make maths and science
The Founding Fathers intended a more modest role for the president:
to defend the country when attacked, to enforce the law, to uphold the
constitution—and that was about it.
The office has grown over time, writers note, but Obama is
ambitiously growing it faster and with farther reach than perhaps his
Mr Obama promised to roll back Mr Bush’s imperial
presidency. But has he? Having slammed his predecessor for issuing
“signing statements” dismissing parts of laws he had just signed, he is
now doing the same thing. He vowed to close the prison at Guantánamo
Bay, but this week put off for another six months any decision as to
what to do with the inmates. Meanwhile, he has embraced Mrs Clinton’s
curious notion that the president should be “commander-in-chief of our
economy”, by propping up banks, firing executives, backing car
warranties and so forth. Mr Healy reckons that Mr Obama is “as
dedicated to enhancing federal power as any president in 50 years.”
So if his image is not quite as burnished as he was used to, it must be the polisher’s fault.
It has become his common lament. Challenged about
difficulties with his economic or legislative programs, President Obama
complains about the tyranny of “the news cycle,” pronouncing the words
with an air of above-it-all disdain for the impatience and fecklessness
of today’s media culture.
Yet after six months in office, perhaps no other president has been
more attuned to, or done more to dominate, the news cycle he
disparages. Mr. Obama has given roughly three times as many interviews
as George W. Bush and held four times as many prime-time news
conferences as Bill Clinton had by comparable points in their terms.
The all-Obama, all-the-time carpet bombing of the news media
represents a strategy by a White House seeking to deploy its most
effective asset in service of its goals, none more critical now than
health care legislation. But longtime Washington hands warn that
saturation coverage can diminish the power of his voice and lose public
And it seems to have begun.