Where Snark Can Do Some Good

A Politico satire eerily like the real thing

Hats off to the very clever Roger Simon, Politico’s chief political columnist. He got me good this morning with this sharp bit of satire, “Obama, the one-term president,” a piece that reads so much like something else you might find on the Web site that it took me until page two to realize it was satire at all. I was comforted to find out Joe Klein made the same mistake.

Combining all the worst aspects of modern political coverage—tracking the race while ignoring the issues, brazenly predicting upcoming outcomes (not 2010, but 2012!), and exemplifying a remarkably cynical tone far too cold for my still too idealistic taste—Simon argues, ironically, that Obama “just does not get it.” As president…

You have to stay on message, follow the polls, listen to your advisers (who are writing the message and taking the polls) and realize that when it comes to doing what is right versus doing what is expedient, you do what is expedient so that you can get reelected and do what is right in the second term. If at all possible. And it will help your legacy. And not endanger the election of others in your party. And not hurt the brand. Or upset people too much.

Granted, that’s a pretty extreme opener, and I should have been on to him. Instead, I was outraged. Then the nature of this little prank became obvious—it’s a savage tearing apart of those who’ve criticized the president for poor politics, and one of the sharpest pieces to have been written on the subject.

Some choice moments from the piece:

You could not put the conventional wisdom more clearly: It is far better for a president to do nothing than to choose a side. Even if the side he chooses is the right one from an ethical or moral perspective, it is a “blunder” politically because inevitably it will upset some people.

I was getting ready to point to Nate Silver’s polling analysis on the issue when I read this hilarious vignette:

A candidate says, as Bobby Kennedy did, “Some men look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that are not and ask why not?” A president says: “What do the polls say?”

A recent CNN poll found that 68 percent of Americans do not want a mosque built close to ground zero. Which should mean: end of story. That’s all she wrote. Let’s move on to the next crisis.

It appears, however, that at least on this occasion, Obama does not care what the polls say.

And the shoe really dropped here:

The problem for Obama is that he appears to have taken seriously all the “change” stuff he promised during his campaign. And he has been unable to make the transition from candidate to president.

But the best, snarkiest, and sharpest lines are left to last:

Maybe Obama is disconnected. After all, as a former professor of constitutional law, he actually knows what the Constitution says.

His opponents have no such fetters. They know what they want the Constitution to say: yes to guns, no to gay marriage and never to mosques close to hallowed ground, though churches and synagogues are OK.

What’s so wrong with that? I’ll bet they poll great.

Good work.

But in my defense, part of the reason I didn’t catch on to what Simon was doing was because it did not seem particularly out of place. Politico posts eerily similar pieces frequently, and frequently unironically. The kind of journalism being pilloried here—fatuous, poll-obsessed, strategy-focused, issues-ignoring—is exactly the kind of journalism Politico thrives on. And I confess to guzzling it down even as I lament it. It’s kind of like Bravo.

Just today, surrounding Simon’s piece, headlines obsess over polling, potential presidential campaigns, scathing soundbites, endorsements that might have impact for the endorsee and the endorser, and, of course, the politics of FLOTUS’s vacation. There is precious little coverage of issues. For instance, let’s not get carried away examining what the Islamic community center near Ground Zero actually is. No, instead let’s note that Christie supports it, Reid doesn’t, and Newt, well, you know what he said.

Simon might ask: What’s so wrong with all that? And he might answer: I’m sure it drives great traffic.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.