Political Animal


May 15, 2013 9:32 AM D.C. To Obama: Don’t Mess With “This Town”

By Ed Kilgore

Well, it doesn’t get much more official than this: an VandeHei/Allen “Behind the Curtain” column announcing that D.C. (“the town”) is “turning on” Barack Obama, and there will be nothing but venom coming from any direction for the foreseeable future:

Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.

Too bad, voters, and all those who have an interest in their federal government doing something constructive; Obama has to have his spanking from “D.C. stakeholders,” so enjoy it or look the other way.

What amazes me the most about this column is the forthright announcement that the MSM are going to make explicit common cause with the GOP:

Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.

This open partisanship is excused by the fact that in “this town” (among the “Establishment Democrats” who are a “D.C. Stakeholder”) Democrats aren’t bothering to defend Obama. Which Democrats are we talking about here? Here you go:

The dam of solid Democratic solidarity has collapsed, starting with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s weekend scolding of the White House over Benghazi, then gushing with the news the Justice Department had sucked up an absurdly broad swath of Associated Press phone records.

Yes, MoDo is your representative Democrat. When you’ve lost her, you’ve clearly lost the Blue States altogether. And if that’s not enough, we have the Anonymous Insider Democrat:

One Democrat who likes Obama and has been around town for many years said elected officials in his own party are no different than Republicans: They think the president is distant and unapproachable.
“He has never taken the Democratic chairs up to Camp David to have a drink or to have a discussion,” the longtime Washingtonian said. “You gotta stroke people and talk to them. It’s like courting: You have to send flowers and candy and have surprises. It’s a constant process. Now they’re saying, ‘He never talked to me in the good times.’”

Just a week ago, we were all mocking this sort of talk about Obama not having the viciousness or seductiveness to be an effective president. But the new “narrative” of Obama being on the ropes is bringing back all sorts of stupid and discredited criticisms. “This town” has turned on him! That’s all that matters. And after all, the same thing happened to his two immediate predecessors:

This is a dangerous — albeit familiar — place for a second-term president. Once the dogs are released, they bark, they bite and it takes a very long time to calm them down. Bill Clinton got hit early and often, and George W. Bush never really recovered from it.

Now we know. George W. Bush didn’t leave office as one of our least popular presidents because of the Iraq War or Katrina or his squandering of a budget surplus or his economic policy malfeasance: like Obama, he didn’t respect the mores and folkways of “this town” enough. So down he went.

On this particular occasion, Harris and VandeHei come so close to self-parody that every sentence is like a pinata you could hit from any direction. But make no mistake: this is a declaration of war by elements of the Beltway Media who are determined to show us all they still have the power to “bring down a president,” as they arrogantly used to say about Watergate, and that not only the GOP but the Breitbartian wingnuts have a new ally in the “Vetting” of Barack Obama.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • K in VA on May 15, 2013 9:41 AM:

    Politico represents everything that's gone wrong with DC, and politics, and most of all, the media, in the past few decades.

    No wonder the American people are suffering.

  • biggerbox on May 15, 2013 9:56 AM:

    Someday I hope NASA, or maybe a private company, will have developed space flight to the point where people from our Earth will be able to fly to the opposite side of the Sun and visit that alternate Earth that Politico keeps reporting about. It sounds fascinating. Imagine, an Earth so much like ours, and yet so completely different.

  • c u n d gulag on May 15, 2013 9:56 AM:

    Man, they keep trying to get him, don't they?
    First, even before Politico, the MSM tried to nail him on his Reverend, Michelle's "Whitey Tapes," then his birth certificate, Obamacare, etc.

    They tried to prevent his first election, then looked for something, ANY thing, to impeach him.

    Then, Politico came along, and they did their best to prevent his second elections, and now are looking for something, ANY thing, to impeach him.

    Where have I seen this before?
    Oh yeah, the cartoons!

    As the Fudd brothers, Mike Alieneyes and Dim FullO’Hooey, point their shotguns at that waskawy wabbit, Barack Bunny, he says, “What’s up, Doc… er… Doc’s?”

    What dopes!

    What maroon’s!!

    What ignoramus’s!!!

    And their column was much better in the original Sally Quinn:

  • JMG on May 15, 2013 9:57 AM:

    It is not in Obama's nature to do so, but a strong denunciation of the corrupt and moronic Washington press corps would be very popular with most Americans. I mean, who doesn't look at David Gregory's mug and not want to slug it, regardless of their political beliefs?

  • Mudge on May 15, 2013 9:58 AM:

    I admit to not having the list of "Establishment Democrats". I will use the Blue Dog list as a nearly complete subset. What struck me, however, is the implicit assumption by V&A that Democrats are monolithic, like Republicans have become,on policy. Many Democrats have legitimate concerns about the AP subpoenas and that seems to translate into massive disaffection.

    I hate to dispute V&A, but Dick Cheyney officially set records for lies, bullying and shadiness that will never be broken.

    The Washington press corps has been lying low looking for any excuse to jump on Obama. It feeds right into the Republican strategy. They will be stroked by Boehner and McConnell. Maybe Sally Quinn will throw a party.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 15, 2013 10:02 AM:

    You know, for a minute there I was confused. If I didn't know any better, I'da thought that bloviating beltway types have declared themselves representatives of the people who actually live in the District-that's-not-a-state-ergo-have-no-representation-in-Congress, who are overwhelming Democrats. They couldn't be speaking for those folks, could they?

    The quotes around this town should have alerted me that these are just blowhards using the media to project their blather-brained silliness onto the rest of the reasonable people of the nation.

    I'd really like to see some everyday Joe's give their opinion of the Brouhaha-That's-Actually-A-Tempest-in-a-TEApot. Not that I'm confident that the asshats in production editing will not use the most ignorant dunce standing at the bus stop to sound byte. This situation really reeks of a select few farting in their own bubble and claiming the whole world stinks...

  • Steve on May 15, 2013 10:17 AM:

    This President is "distant and unapproachable?"

    I hate to break it to these clowns, but EVERY President is "distant and unapproachable." He lives in the flippin' White House, surrounded by a fence, a bunch of Secret Service agents, and Marine guards, for Pete's sake. Of course he's distant and unapproachable.

    Because if he were to be "close and approachable," some nutbag with an AR-15 and a grudge would freakin' kill him.

    Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how'd you like the play?

  • Rick B on May 15, 2013 10:22 AM:

    The last time the DC insiders and the MSM went after a politician like this was in 2000 when they attacked Al Gore. The "justification" was exactly the same. The DC insiders simply did not believe that Al Gore gave them the deference they deserved.

    Bob Somerby, who writes the Daily Howler, has an extensive description of the process at How He Got There,describing how Bush was elected in 2000.

  • PTate in MN on May 15, 2013 10:27 AM:

    Only conservatives think the MSM has been soft on Obama previously or that the MSM leans liberal. The only change then, would be that the stooges in the DC press corps will drop the pretense that they are fair and balanced. That actually might be a good thing. No one with brains has taken them seriously for a long time, and now, we can just lump the whole DC press corps with Fox News and dismiss the lot of them as paid partisan hacks.

  • LaFollette Progressive on May 15, 2013 10:31 AM:

    As someone on the fringes of DC with some insight into the think tank/NGO world and several agencies, I would say (anecdotally) it's generally true that Democratic insiders are almost universally displeased with the Obama Administration, but mostly for entirely different reasons than the ones cited by Politico's clown-show reporting.

    The Administration *is* generally seen as abrasive and unwilling to listen to constructive criticism. But by and large, the frustration is based on the many ways this Administration has gone along to get along with big business, hired corporate drones for top agency positions, allowed captured regulatory bodies to remain captured, and generally treated progressive public interest groups with disdain.

    I suppose that none of my acquaintances have yet risen to the level in the DC "Establishment" that they would feel slighted by not being invited to Camp David to have their asses kissed. I'm sure that some of the people interviewed for this article really did spout off some petty gripes. And I'd imagine that Politico's contacts run more to the Blue Dog side of the caucus than the progressive side. But anyone actually talking to Democrats on the ground in DC is going to come up with a much more substantive set of criticisms of the Obama Administration than this gossip column did.

    And that's what gets me. These hacks at Politico *could* tell a story that criticizes the Obama administration from the Left from people willing to put their names on the record in many cases, but they CHOSE to run with anonymous whining about trivial crap. Because it sells better? Or because they're generally serving Republican interests and maintaining the Republican narrative about Obama instead of undercutting it with substantive criticisms from the Left? You be the judge.

  • Peter C on May 15, 2013 10:47 AM:


    "all three D.C. stakeholders "

    Well, as a liberal, I obviously do not have representation with any D.C. 'stakeholder'. Indeed, it would seem that MoDo is going double-duty, standing in for both 'the media' and 'Establishment Democrats'.

    "Obama’s aloof mien "

    The last president who was 'approachable' was Bill Clinton who was branded as 'undignified' becaused a student was so little cowed by his high office that he dared ask 'boxers or briefs'. Bush (the younger) was 'characterized' as approachable (with his brush-clearing and his mountain-biking) but the secret service made sure that no one 'approached' (or was even admitted to the venue if they wore the wrong t-shirt).

    I don't think any of these 'scandals' really have legs.

  • Lance on May 15, 2013 10:51 AM:

    "George W. Bush didn’t leave office as one of our least popular presidents because of the Iraq War or Katrina or his squandering of a budget surplus or his economic policy malfeasance: like Obama, he didn’t respect the mores and folkways of “this town” enough. So down he went."


    The man left the presidency unimpeached and unconvicted.

    How exactly did he go 'down'?

    It's not like McCain was his VP, and he 'lost' a third 'W' term the way Clinton did when Gore lost.

  • DJ on May 15, 2013 11:02 AM:

    This President is "distant and unapproachable?"

    Well, much as they want to, they can't call him "uppity."

  • manapp99 on May 15, 2013 11:02 AM:

    Had to swing by and look at how the Monthly was handling this. Did my heart good to see the comments.

  • martin on May 15, 2013 11:08 AM:

    They lost me at "Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama "

    Waited!? Waited!? They didn't even wait until he was inaugurated, much less five years.

  • mk3872 on May 15, 2013 11:10 AM:

    Wow, Allen & VandeHei let their outright disdain and partisanship hang right out in this one.

    They actually called POTUS "arrogant" and "holier than thou". I can't believe that I actually read that!

  • Bokonon on May 15, 2013 11:12 AM:

    This article is a very poor, shoddy justification for gleefully and spitefully jumping into bed with the GOP's attack machine (to an even greater extent than Politico has already been doing). But that's exactly what it is. They are justifying the fact that they are throwing objectivity to the wind. And now they are going to pile on the President, for fun, profit, and personal revenge.

    Just picture the authors pointing and shouting, "You asked for it Obama ... you had your chance to show us respect and give us some access, and now you are going to GET IT!"

  • jjm on May 15, 2013 11:14 AM:

    The worst of it is Politico's smugness, imagining itself in charge of the narrative. They have and other think coming!

  • bobbo on May 15, 2013 11:21 AM:

    It's Sally Quinn quoting David Broder all over again. "He came in and trashed the place. And it's not his place."

  • bmcchgo on May 15, 2013 11:41 AM:

    This kind of arrogance from the DC media really pisses me off! But, I can see a very familiar scenario developing here. A DC press and Republican scandal-mongers attempting to bring down a popular President during a time of improving economic trends and peace. A summer full of hearings, subpoenas and empty accusations - and then American people get tired of it all.

    These attacks on Obama could go a long way towards awakening a Dem base just before the 2014 mid-terms. Careful what you wish for Politico!

  • emjayay on May 15, 2013 12:16 PM:

    I think about Politico as a behind-the-scenes inside-the-beltway oriented political wonk sort of thing. It's free in boxes around DC and apparently starting last year in some NYC locations unless they gave up on that.

    But oddly if you read the comments they tend to be more moronic know-nothing wingnutty than even those in Yahoo! News. You know, all Democrats are evil and Obummer is a communist dictator and Hitler was a liberal etc. I guess Politico has for some reason gotten onto the Favorites list of a lot of those kind of ignorant wackos, a significant American demographic.

  • OKDem on May 15, 2013 1:02 PM:

    Please invite all the occupants of "This Town" to Camp David. Then detail a battalion of the 101st to insist they keep enjoying their cocktail wienies until say 2024.

    It would be inconvenient to the President and his family but a sacrifice for the greater good.

  • LAC on May 15, 2013 1:32 PM:

    Real Person to Politco: My cat's shit is too good for your rag.

    @emjajay - that is the truth about Politco's comment section. It is like the place to slum for WAPO's idiot tin-foil base of commentators.

  • bluestatedon on May 15, 2013 1:41 PM:

    Politico = Drudge with better graphics.

  • Quaker in a Basement on May 15, 2013 1:48 PM:

    "And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be."

    Nicknames and tire swings, dammit!

  • R on May 15, 2013 2:46 PM:

    Once again, we see why Charlie Pierce refers to Politico as "Tiger Beat on the Potomac."

  • Pollysi on May 15, 2013 2:48 PM:

    This is exactly the sort of "reporting" that infuriates people outside of DC. Give us facts, give us names, but don't give us your snotty opinions.

    As Charles Pierce wrote last December, "One of my primary criticisms of Tiger Beat On The Potomac [aka Politico] has been that the entire enterprise has been dedicated totally to gossip, triviality, and Drudge-baiting to the exclusion of what’s actually going on in the country to the people these politics are supposed to serve."

  • Barbara on May 15, 2013 3:14 PM:

    Politico is pathetic. It isn't even in the same league as the quite annoying MSM stories that focus on which side benefits from some kind of newsworthy event (like the Marathon bombing), instead of on the actual news or policy implications of the event. It's worse than that, it's like a recitation of what some unnamed famous people were doing and thinking when they learned that the bomb went off. ("One celebrated actress who has run marathons in the past was painting her toe nails when her cell phone exploded with text queries about her whereabouts and safety.") Does anyone really care what a single unnamed operative who can attach a D to his name thinks about the president? It's written by people who are too narcissistic to understand how vapid and pointless it comes across to other people. I have worked in DC for more than 20 years, and even I am struck by how brain dead and solipsistic Politico can be.

  • Anonymous on May 15, 2013 3:30 PM:

    Sometime or other the DC press should get its head out of its arse and visit the rest of the country that is concerned with jobs, healthcare, immigration, the environment, etc., etc.

    Disgusting bit of c*ap writing.

  • Doug on May 15, 2013 9:02 PM:

    The best example they could come up with was from that reject-from-any-teen-angst-soap - MoDo? Well, that proves it, it's just another bit of "Politico" wishful thinking.
    Now, if it had the "Moustache of Doom"...wait, that *still* wouldn't make any difference.