E.J. Dionne, writing for the New Republic, gives us a fascinating inside look at how the Obama White House manages the punditocracy:
Last Thursday afternoon, for example, the White House invited in journalists, mostly opinion writers, to sell them on the substance of the president’s big speech on Guantanamo and the treatment of detainees.
Unbeknownst to the writers until afterward, they had been divided into two groups, one more centrist with a sprinkling of moderate conservatives, the other more liberal. (I was in the liberal group.) The president made an unscheduled appearance at each briefing. As is his way, he charmed both groups.
The idea, as far as I can determine, was to sell the liberal group on those aspects of Obama’s plan that are a break from George W. Bush’s policies, and to sell the centrist group on the toughness of the president’s approach and the fact that it squares with Bush’s more moderate moves later in his second term.
But he wonders how far Obama can get with the kind of strategy this represents, one of sending different messages to different audiences as the President builds what Dionne describes as a new “liberal establishment.” Deft as Obama is at it, Dionne writes:
The establishment Obama is trying to build would make the country better — more equal, more just and more conscious of the government’s constitutional obligations. The far right is being isolated, and Republicans are simply lost.
But establishments have a habit of becoming too confident in their ability to manipulate people and events, and too certain of their own moral righteousness. Obama’s political and substantive gifts are undeniable. What he needs to realize are the limits of his own mastery.