The Media Natives Grow Restless

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Mar 20, 2009 4:25 PM
Peggy Noonan, who once brimmed with enthusiasm and hope for the new president, delivers a stern lecture directed at "the unbearable lightness of the Obama administration."

Worse yet, from Obama's perspective, Vanity Fair's Michael Wolff delivers a written tongue-lashing (in contrast to the french kisses more generally received by the administration) that starts with a damning indictment: "Sheesh, the guy is Jimmy Carter."  Though it's almost impossible to imagine how, the piece actually gets tougher from there.

It's beginning to feel a bit like a turning point for the Obama administration.  Even its former enthusiasts -- and the president's more honest boosters -- are beginning to look at our new president and finding something distinctly wanting.

The critique is a distinctly dangerous one for the administration.  Being cast as without substance, in Noonan's formulation, and having an ideological compatriot like Wolff write something like, "Be a man, man"  is potentially politically lethal.  And that's particularly true for Barack Obama, a relative newcomer to the national scene.

America only now is becoming acquainted with the President they knew so little of when he was elected.  And first impressions are hard to change. 

It's not always easy, but one can persuade voters to change their minds about a person's policies.  But after they've decided what kind of person or leader he is, fundamentally -- well, those sorts of perceptions are very difficult to alter.  They may come to dislike some of the qualities that at first they ignored, didn't mind, or even liked (what, in a sense, happened to President Bush) -- but it's rare for people to change their fundamental understanding of who someone is, and what he's about, once those impressions solidify.

There's truth to Noonan's and Wolff's critiques of Obama: He does seem flighty and unfocused -- doing his basketball brackets, complaining about the "Simon Cowell's of Washington", throwing St. Patrick's Day parties, talking, talking, always talking -- even as AIG executives pocket bonuses, the Treasury remains unstaffed, the economy limps along and proposals to settle Guantanamo inmates in the US are floated.