In early November, Barack Obama was one sad sack of a president—his agenda repudiated by midterm voters, his political judgment scorned by commentators, his future darkened by a growing belief he might be a one-time president.
In early February, Obama is master of the moment—his polls on the upswing, his political dexterity applauded by pundits, his status as Washington’s dominant figure unchallenged even by Republicans.
This three-month metamorphosis says something about Obama’s survival skills, but the turnabout says even more about the mainstream media: Obama is playing the press like a fiddle. (Related: Obama holds joint news conference)
He is doing it by exploiting some of the most longstanding traits among reporters who cover politics and government—their favoritism for politicians perceived as ideologically centrist and willing to profess devotion to Washington’s oft-honored, rarely practiced civic religion of bipartisanship.
Time’s Mark Halperin has hailed Obama as “magnetic,” “distinguished,” and “inspiring” – in one story. ABC’s Christiane Amanpour saw “Reaganesque” optimism and “Kennedyesque” encouragement – all in one speech. Howard Fineman, the former Newsweek columnist who now writes for the Huffington Post, said conductor Obama was now leading a “love train” through D.C.
Swing voters are swooning, too. It’s no coincidence. Polls suggest that many independents have many of the same easily aroused erogenous zones as reporters—and improved poll numbers lead to more coverage of the Obama-gets-his-groove-back narrative.
Sustaining an effective governing center over the long term would be a formidable achievement by Obama. Riding a short-term wave of centrism fever, by contrast, has proven surprisingly simple.