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Faultfinding friends

Negative criticism of President Obama is getting to be quite a chorus

Issue: "2010 Books Issue," July 3, 2010

Putting together a report card for the first year-and-a-half of Barack Obama's performance as president reminds me of the fellow whose grades arrived after his first year of college. The record was four Fs and a D. "Looks to me," his adviser told him, "that you've been spending too much time on that one course."

Except that some of us aren't sure where we'd award even a D. And no one, on reading that, should respond by saying: "Well, of course. WORLD magazine doesn't know how to say anything positive about a Democrat." What's been overwhelming in recent weeks has been the extent to which criticism of the Obama administration has come from the president's past supporters.

Two years ago, for example, Juan Williams of National Public Radio could barely contain his excitement when polls seemed to dictate Obama's election later that year. But two weeks ago, Williams said bluntly: "The problem here is this is an administration that, as Hillary Clinton famously pointed out [during the primary campaign], you may not want to have answer the 3 a.m. call. These are guys who have tremendous vision about legislative achievements and specific things like healthcare, going forward on immigration, those difficult issues. . . . But when it comes to the crisis, when it comes to the Gulf oil spill, the wars, the recession, they feel as if it's being imposed upon them, rather than taking the helm. That's what Americans are sensing right here. . . . Are you able to handle a crisis in a convincing way that inspires confidence? And so far, the president hasn't done that."

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When that's the best your friends have to say about you, maybe you'd better hunker down and figure out what's gone wrong.

Much more briefly, listen to Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times: "Let's hope I'm wrong, but I fear that myopic policies by the Obama administration and its allies may lay the groundwork for a catastrophe in Sudan." This, from one of Obama's chief apologists just a year ago, about a president who was supposed to pour sugar on our soured relationships around the world.

Or try Frank Rich, also from the Times. Still a stubborn defender of Obama, Rich says: "Unlike his unflappable temperament, his lingering failings should and could be corrected. And they must be if his presidency is not just to rise above the 24/7 Spill-cam but to credibly seize the narrative that Americans have craved ever since he was elected during the most punishing economic downturn of our lifetime. We still want to believe that Obama is on our side, willing to fight those bad corporate actors who cut corners and gambled recklessly while regulators slept, Congress raked in contributions, and we got stuck with the wreckage and the bills. But his leadership style keeps sowing confusion about his loyalties, puncturing holes in the powerful tale he could tell."

Or go to Joan Walsh in Salon: "Two stories about President Obama this weekend pushed my growing unease with his recent moves into full-blown anxiety." In her column, she agrees with others who say the president's efforts to defend himself sound "whiny and juvenile."

And now, in a strange twist, a bizarre falling out is developing between President Obama and the mainstream media that loved and admired him into office. Sharp-penned Maureen Dowd observes "now that some in the press have turned against him, Obama is proving very thin skinned. . . . It hurts Obama to be a crybaby about it, and to blame the press and the 'old Washington game' for his own communication failures." Dowd remembers now what she never reported during the campaign, that "Obama was always aloof and distrustful of the press despite the fact that most adored him during the campaign."

Such clippings would be unremarkable if they had come from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Dick Morris. And they might have been unworthy of comment too if they had all referenced a single issue. But when the president's loyalists express doubts about his abilities in foreign affairs, waging war, the economy, the oil spill, immigration, healthcare, energy, and governance in general, then something has happened that even some of us oldsters have never witnessed in our lifetimes.
Email Joel Belz

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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