From Captain America to Maureen Dowd, Obama is losing the media culture war
By Howard Kurtz
Published May 01, 2014
The thrill up the leg is gone.
There’s not even a tingle in the toes.
President Obama’s media supporters are abandoning him. Even the liberal culture seems to be abandoning him. And as he slips into the low 40s in two recent polls, it’s hard to see how he recasts his once-glittering image.
This is the kind of sea change that goes beyond polling numbers. The very mass culture that celebrated Barack Obama, that turned him into an international icon, is now migrating toward the darker side of his legacy, perhaps fueled by a sense of frustration and disappointment.
On the pundit front, the president’s self-description on his Asia trip as a man trying to hit singles and doubles, along with the occasional homer, drew a stinging rebuke from Maureen Dowd. The New York Times columnist’s message: Stop whining.
“You are the American president. And the American president should not perpetually use the word ‘eventually.’ And he should not set a tone of resignation with references to this being a relay race and say he’s willing to take ‘a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf,’ and muse that things may not come ‘to full fruition on your timetable.’
“An American president should never say, as you did to the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, about presidents through history: ‘We’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.’
“Mr. President, I am just trying to get my paragraph right. You need to think bigger…
“Especially now that we have this scary World War III vibe with the Russians, we expect the president, especially one who ran as Babe Ruth, to hit home runs.”
This comes after her Times colleague David Brooks questioned Obama’s manhood in the Middle East, and Washington Post columnist Oceander Milbank called the president’s Asia trip aimless and said he didn’t project much of anything.
But it’s not just the Beltway types who have soured on the president.
Now Obama also has Captain America against him. A New York Times piece says the new movie is set against the backdrop of an infiltrated U.S. government with evil assassins and killer drones--inspired, the director says, by "the same sort of questions Barack Obama has to address."
"What many screenwriters, novelists and visual artists have seized on is not an inspirational story of the first black president. Instead they have found more compelling story lines in the bleaker, morally fraught parts of Mr. Obama’s legacy."
The piece adds that "the public relations machinery of the White House assiduously tries to control Mr. Obama’s image and legacy, but there is nothing it can do to stop artistic interpretation of his policies."
Many artists are independent, and these portrayals change over time. But there's no doubt that the Hollywood and Broadway cultures portrayed Obama as an inspiring figure in the wake of his groundbreaking 2008 election and early Nobel Peace Prize. That he is now also seen as the man behind massive NSA surveillance and lethal drone attacks is a measure of how governing is far more difficult than campaigning.
And in the second term, Obama has had no major victories--no killing of Usama bin Laden--to balance the setbacks and morally ambiguous policies.
The president is, at best, hitting singles--the kind of small ball that drew such disdain from Dowd.