The leading liberal voices of the New York Times editorial pages all criticized—and, in some cases, clobbered—President Obama on Sunday for his handling of the economy and national security.
It's not unusual for Barack Obama to take a little friendly fire from the Times. But it's perhaps unprecedented for him to get hit on the same day by columnists Frank Rich, Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd—and in the paper's lead editorial. Their critique punctuated a weekend that started with a widely circulated blog post by Paul Krugman that said the president’s yet to be announced bank rescue plan would almost certainly fail.
The sentiment, coming just two months after the president was sworn in, reflects elite opinion in the Washington-New York corridor that Obama is increasingly overwhelmed, and not fully appreciative of the building tsunami of populist outrage.
Unlike with President Bush, the Obama administration is less apt to dismiss such commentary, at least publicly, as so much carping from an out-of-touch peanut gallery. These are voices that have been sympathetic, and at times gushing toward Obama, during the campaign and in his administration’s early days.
The president and his top aides read the Times closely and react quickly to its reporting and commentary. Tom Daschle, for example, withdrew from consideration as Health and Human Services Secretary amid back tax issues on the same day that the paper ran a tough front-page piece and editorial on what keeping Daschle would mean to the Obama brand.
So it likely caused some consternation this morning at the White House and at Camp David, where the president is staying this weekend, to pick up the Times and find:
—Frank Rich, who made a cottage industry of Bush-bashing, writing that until Obama “addresses the full depth of Americans’ anger with his full arsenal of policy smarts and political gifts, his presidency and, worse, our economy will be paralyzed.”
Recalling the Daschle episode and the public’s response to the image of a wealthy former senator not paying taxes on a limousine, Rich said that judging from their response to the AIG case “the administration learned nothing from that brush with disaster.”
Larry Summers, perhaps the president’s most high-profile economic adviser, came in for the worst of it.
“Summers is so tone-deaf that he makes Geithner seem like Bobby Kennedy," Rich wrote.
—Thomas Friedman, the paper’s highly-read foreign affairs columnist, turning his focus home to find the nation lacking “inspirational leadership.”
Friedman’s indictment was not limited to Obama, but he captured some of the concern about the president’s communications skills by writing that the president “missed a huge teaching opportunity with A.I.G.”
Instead of letting Congress react in its usual knee-jerk fashion to overcompensate for what it believes the public wants—what Friedman called letting them “run riot”—the president should have stepped up.
“He should have gone on national TV and had the fireside chat with the country that is long overdue. That’s a talk where he lays out exactly how deep the crisis we are in is, exactly how much sacrifice we’re all going to have to make to get out of it, and then calls on those A.I.G. brokers — and everyone else who, in our rush to heal our banking system, may have gotten bonuses they did not deserve — and tells them that their president is asking them to return their bonuses ‘for the sake of the country.’”
—The paper’s liberal editorial page and a frequent voice of opposition to Bush’s national security policies complaining about “confused and mixed signals from the [Obama] White House” on some of the same issues.
“Some of what the public has heard from the Obama administration on issues like state secrets and detainees sounds a bit too close for comfort to the Bush team’s benighted ideas,” penned the Times editorialists, carping about Guantanamo specifically, detainee policy more broadly and Obama’s reluctance to investigate Bush-era actions on “terrorism, state secrets, wiretapping, detention and interrogation.”
—Maureen Dowd, in her inimitable fashion, citing the take-charge First Lady digging a White House garden to wonder “if the wrong Obama is in the Oval.”
“It’s a time in America’s history where we need less smooth jazz and more martial brass,” wrote Dowd.
—Krugman, who is perhaps the most frequent Obama critic at the paper but also a Nobel Prize-winning economist whose analysis carries considerable sway in liberal circles, not even waiting for the administration’s bank plan announcement this week before panning it.
“It’s exactly the plan that was widely analyzed — and found wanting — a couple of weeks ago,” Krugman wrote on his blog. “The zombie ideas have won. The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank.”
The Princeton economist turned opinion columnist predicted: “This plan will produce big gains for banks that didn’t actually need any help; it will, however, do little to reassure the public about banks that are seriously undercapitalized. And I fear that when the plan fails, as it almost surely will, the administration will have shot its bolt: it won’t be able to come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work. What an awful mess.”
Christina Romer, the Chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, called Krugman’s critique “unfair” in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” and said their plan of partnering with the private sector was to ensure taxpayers didn’t shoulder more of the burden and they didn’t offer “just another hand-out to banks.”