What was Tina Brown thinking?
Choosing Niall Ferguson’s take-down of President Obama as Newsweek’s cover article and entitling it: “Hit the Road, Barack” she was surely trying to say something.
If anything, she is responsible for the title. By calling out the President of the United States by his first name, she is being dismissive and disrespectful.
Coming from a mainstream New York media maven, someone who is notably attuned to correct opinion, it is shocking.
Surely, there’s more to it than the will to create buzz and sell magazines.
The article’s author is not just a Republican hack. Niall Ferguson drips credentials: Harvard professor, best-selling author, Hoover Institute fellow, television star and so on.
Of course, Ferguson is not a Democrat. During the last election he advised John McCain. He counts among the few academics and cognoscenti who were not enthralled by Barack Obama in 2008. He has written numerous articles critiquing the Obama administration over the past years.
But still, his article did not appear on the cover of the National Review or Weekly Standard.
What was Tina Brown saying with her cover article?
I think that she was saying that it’s safe to go back in the water. Meaning: it’s now safe to turn away from Barack Obama… and still be invited to the best cocktail parties.
You might not have thought that all of the free thinkers in a place like New York need permission to think forbidden thoughts, but, sad to say, many of them do.
Even I, navigating a social circle that is far narrower than Brown’s, have noticed a general malaise, a barely articulated disillusion with President Obama. Everyone knows it; no one dares say it.
Everyone knows that Obama has failed. Some people are afraid to think it because they do not want to admit that they were conned in 2008. Others allow themselves to think it but are afraid to express themselves too openly.
They are awaiting an all-clear signal, a sign that separating from Obama will not consign them to social oblivion.
In New York in 2008 support for Obama was nearly unanimous.
Obviously, this is not a good thing. George Patton once said: “If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.”
New York is a very liberal town; it often seems to be suffering from terminal groupthink. New York is also a media town; it’s a place where members of the elite media rub shoulders live in an echo chamber.
But, the media is declining. It is certainly not funding the city government. That honor belongs to Wall Street and the financial services industry.
It mattered to New York that Goldman Sachs bankers lined up in 2008 to support Barack Obama. It mattered that they would lend him their credibility.
This year, the same bankers have given most of their money to Mitt Romney.
Clearly they are smarting from Obama’s demagogic attacks on Wall Street fat cats. But they also know, better than most, that the Obama administration has been bad for business.
That giant sucking sound they've been hearing has been the movement of money from the private to the public sector. Bankers are struggling to do business under the artificial constraints imposed by Obamacare and Dodd-Frank Wall Street.
As Wall Street goes, so goes a considerable number of New York movers and shakers.
Clearly, the New York Times and the New Yorker, reliably liberal publications, are not going to turn on the man they helped make president. If they did they would have to repudiate their most cherished beliefs.
But now that Tina Brown has made it respectable to jettison Obama, more and more people are going to feel that they can speak openly about their disappointment.
If they need cogent arguments for their position Brown has provided them. Few public intellectuals are better at it than Niall Ferguson.
Ferguson begins by saying that Obama has failed to keep his promises.
No one should have been surprised. Thanks to the media and academic elites Barack Obama was thrust into a position for which he was unprepared and unqualified.
In 2008 many intelligent people worked themselves into such a frenzy about the danger posed by Republicans that they convinced themselves that Obama would be up to the job of being the President of the United States. Then, they set about manipulating public opinion into thinking as they did.
Of course, they were grossly unfair to the man himself. Had they any judgment they would have allowed the man to gain experience before thrusting him into the oval office.
Desperation clouded their judgment. So much so that they decided that it was more important to make a point than to elect someone who could function as a president.
Had they wanted to run a liberal Democrat, they could have found others. Media mavens were entranced and enthralled by Obama because of the narrative, because he was a great story.
Most intellectuals have been tricked into believing that life is a narrative. Within that mindset they decided that the best way to solve a major financial crisis would be to elect someone who would redeem the American sin of racism.
The question is not whether anyone was thinking clearly. It is, whether anyone was thinking at all.
Among those who bought the narrative were Obama’s team of economic advisers. They were among the first to discover that there was no there there.
On paper it looked like an economics dream team: Larry Summers, Christina Romer, and Austan Goolsbee, not to mention Peter Orszag, Tim Geithner, and Paul Volcker. The inside story, however, is that the president was wholly unable to manage the mighty brains—and egos—he had assembled to advise him.
According to Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men, Summers told Orszag over dinner in May 2009: “You know, Peter, we’re really home alone ... I mean it. We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes [of indecisiveness on key economic issues].” On issue after issue, according to Suskind, Summers overruled the president. “You can’t just march in and make that argument and then have him make a decision,” Summers told Orszag, “because he doesn’t know what he’s deciding.” (I have heard similar things said off the record by key participants in the president’s interminable “seminar” on Afghanistan policy.)
The problem is, life is not a narrative. It is a game. You should not conduct your life according to a script. You should not aspire to have a starring role in a drama.
Articulate goals, draw up a plan, set a policy, implement it… that is the way to live your life, and to run an enterprise.
Ferguson echoes this point when he explains the difference between the Barack Obama narrative and the Paul Ryan plan.
In his words:
Ryan psychs Obama out. This has been apparent ever since the White House went on the offensive against Ryan in the spring of last year. And the reason he psychs him out is that, unlike Obama, Ryan has a plan—as opposed to a narrative—for this country.
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to answer a plan with a narrative.
The choice America is facing in this election is stark. Ferguson states it clearly:
The voters now face a stark choice. They can let Barack Obama’s rambling, solipsistic narrative continue until they find themselves living in some American version of Europe, with low growth, high unemployment, even higher debt—and real geopolitical decline.
Or they can opt for real change: the kind of change that will end four years of economic underperformance, stop the terrifying accumulation of debt, and reestablish a secure fiscal foundation for American national security.