It’s the season of goodbyes, or perhaps of last call. The journalists have all returned from their holiday vacations. The newspaper, in paper form, is full again, brimming with heady articles about rumored dissention in the Donald transition (anonymous sources mixed with speculation), the gunman at the baggage claim (straight reporting of sparse facts mixed with hysteria), and the kidnapping, imprisonment and beating of a white man by young black people in Chicago who evidently have nothing better to do (muted outrage mixed with not much reporting – my local newspaper didn’t cotton to that one too much – probably because it got in the way of various biases).
The Sunday section of my local paper, which arrives on Saturday (go figure), features a local magazine which in most cases I skim and then throw into the recycling with the rest of the inserts. This morning I was greeted with a fond goodbye to, you guessed it, the Obamas. This was largely a pictorial. This being the White House, these were posed pictures, attractive but not informative. After perusing these for about five minutes, I decided that the Obamas have a glorious future as PR professionals.
The point? I’ve lived in the DC area on and off since 1979. I do not remember the press, local or otherwise, giving any president this sort of worshipful send off. Jimmy Carter was despised for being pontificating, weak and having trashy relatives. Ronald Reagan was regarded as inept and doddering; the press found his wife Nancy, she of the glowing gaze, profoundly irritating. G.H.W. Bush was seen as a failure, despite the fact that he presided over the first won war (okay, armed conflict) since World War II. The Clintons were a mess, getting out of Dodge in the midst of chaos, scandal and shady pardons. G.W. Bush was not at all lauded, leaving quietly in the midst of that burst housing bubble that threatened to take down the banking system.
You must remember that, all hopeful theater/music/fashionable hotspot reporting aside, Washington DC is a one-horse town. That horse, overridden and ill fed, is politics.
The local press has loved the Obamas since day one; they are stylish, that most elusive of adjectives. They have exquisite taste in clothing, music, art, and of course, PR. They are anti-Washington, i.e. sophisticated. Some people are like that; most of these people, however, never tread DC waters. They live in New York City, Aspen, Colorado or Los Angeles. Thing is, the Obamas have never been good at Washington’s most necessary skill: riding that political horse.
President Obama, after his bruising Affordable Care Act fight, operated by administrative fiat which has left much of his legacy vulnerable to instant cancellation. His wife, who gets a pass on most things (First Ladies are usually seen as nice people with the possible exception of the glowing Nancy Reagan and her evil twin, Hillary Clinton), is thought of as a mover and shaker in identity politics. The entertainment people love them, they are the personification the ideal power couple, good looking, rich, well educated, accomplished. Problem is, that did not carry the election. The Democrats were not voted into office. Whatever Donald Trump represents was voted in; i.e. flavors of the radical right with ignored overtones of no ideals at all.
All in all, my local newspaper has, once again, missed the boat. I suppose the Obamas were wonderful; I really have no idea. I don’t move in such rarified circles. I do know that the new normal, presided over by the Obama Administration, has led us into the weeds of an uncharted economy at the expense of large, and ignored, swaths of American workers.
Meanwhile, that political horse has had eight wonderful years kicking up its heels in a lovely, green pasture, not ridden at all. Will the Donald Administration take riding lessons and hop on? Probably not, but we can always hope.