We already know President Obama is a better speechwriter than his speechwriters, a better campaign manager than his campaign managers, and at least as good a president as LeBron James is a basketball player — nearly the equal of Lincoln, LBJ, and FDR, as a matter of fact. We know because Obama himself has told us.
Now the prince of self-esteem has gone himself one better: He might even be a better political columnist than the political columnists he admires. From Politico:
President Barack Obama is often accused of being insular. He’s not a schmoozer. He doesn’t like meeting with lawmakers, and he doesn’t particularly care for talking to reporters, either.
But get him in an off-the-record setting with a small group of opinion columnists — the David Brooks and E.J. Dionne types — and he’ll talk for hours.
“He likes the intellectual sparring element of it,” a source familiar with the president’s thinking told POLITICO. “He likes talking to reasonable adversaries.”
He also likes talking to the people he likes to read. The president is a voracious consumer of opinion journalism. Most nights, before going to bed, he’ll surf the Internet, reading the columnists whose opinions he values. One of the great privileges of the presidency is that, when so inclined, he can invite these columnists to his home for meetings that can last as long as two-and-a-half hours.
“It’s not an accident who he invites: He reads the people that he thinks matter, and he really likes engaging those people,” said one reporter with knowledge of the meetings. “He reads people carefully — he has a columnist mentality — and he wants to win columnists over,” said another.
Just what the republic has been waiting for, a president with a columnist’s mentality: all talk, no responsibility. And nothing sharpens up one’s debating skills than talking to “reasonable adversaries” you already admire and with whose opinions about you you wholeheartedly agree.
But give Obama credit for understanding that the real power and glory in journalism today lies not in investigative work of the kind that used to win Pulitzer Prizes — those reporters nowadays find themselves subject to the Espionage Act and NSA surveillance should they get a little too close to the truth for comfort. But columniating and opinionizing, now that’s a different matter. That’s face time on the Sunday shows, a seat on the panel or the round table, or the leg chair on Red Eye.
Plus what better way could there be for a journalist to serve both his country and his party than by regurgitating presidential talking points — delivered right to his face in the Oval Office? It’s not like you’re being played or something:
The president appreciates the back-and-forth exchanges at the sessions, past participants told POLITICO. He even occasionally asks aides or administration officials what a specific columnist thinks about an issue. Sometimes, the aide will then reach out to the columnist to ask his or her opinion, which has had the unintended effect of spurring the columnist to write a piece expressing his thoughts on that very issue.
“It’s like, ‘The president wants to know what you think about ‘x.’ So you go, ‘I guess I better figure out what I think about ‘x,’” one columnist explained. . . .
Said a columnist who has attended multiple meetings, “When you can write your column with absolute surety, knowing that what you’re saying is a true reflection of what the President of the United States is thinking, how do you not do that?”
How indeed? In the Bizarro World of contemporary American journalism, “editorial independence” means reflecting what your pal, the president of the United States is thinking. Because the president really, really likes and admires you and you wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings or, you know, jeopardize access. Especially if you work for, say, the Washington Post or the New York Times.
“The president cares a lot more about the opinions of Fred Hiatt or Tom Friedman than he does about the average U.S. Senator,” said one journalist. “He’s naturally predisposed to analysis. In his own mind, that’s what he is: he’s like us. He wants to be a writer, and so he likes to talk to writers.”
“He’s like us.” A fitting epitaph for American journalism.