Yes, I have a running item complaining about Matt Bai, but as I've said he also, at least when he's reporting, has serious value added: he's actually quite good at the reporting side of what he does, the poking around and finding out what's going on out there. It's only when he turns to drawing conclusions and other analysis that the problems start (well, that and factual assertions about the past).
But Westen, who I guess is now a regular of sorts in the new NYT "Campaign Stops" thingy, is considerably worse. He brings you all the disregard for factual accuracy and lack of knowledge about how the government and politics work, but with none of the value added at all, as far as I can see.
His latest piece, again, is a total nightmare. Some highlights...First, facts:
After his grand bargain on the debt, for example, the president’s approval ratings plummeted.Never happened. Just did not happen. The debt limit deal was reached on July 31. Gallup's July 28-30 reading had Barack Obama at 41% approval. By August 20-22, Obama had fallen all the way to...38%, which he never dropped below, at least so far. Indeed, if you look at the weekly numbers, you have no change at all in the week before and after the deal, with the president bottoming out eventually at all of 40%. As I've said before, what's actually happened is that Obama's approval ratings have been stable for some time now, except for a spike when bin Laden was killed and, yes, a gradual deterioration over time. The only plunge happen in spring and early summer 2009.
So, factual mistakes are bad, and why the Times allows them I can't guess. But I found the next bit even more telling:
Matters were even worse the summer before with the president’s signature issue, health care reform. The law might well have catapulted Democrats to victory rather than a “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm elections if its most popular provisions — especially the elimination of “pre-existing conditions” and providing coverage for tens of millions of working people who can’t afford insurance — had taken effect in September of 2010, instead of in 2013 and 2014.ACA passed in March 2010. There is simply no way, no way at all, that the exchanges could have been up and running by September 2010. The exchanges are to be set up by the states -- a lot of state legislatures weren't even going to meet at all between March and September 2010, let alone pass legislation and implement it. To suppose that ACA could have been up and running by September 2010 betrays such an astonishing ignorance of how policy is made and implemented and how this law in particular works...I mean, it's just breathtaking.
There is a legitimate argument that ACA could have been implemented by September 2012, although I've read some policy analysts who think that would have been a mistake. And, yes, I think that the motive of putting off implementation in order to keep the price tag below an arbitrary number was foolish; if that moved it from 2012 to 2014, I think it was a clear mistake. But September 2010? That's nonsense.
And so Westen's big conclusion is:
No modern American president has ever managed to make it through nearly three years in the White House with so few people really having any idea what he believes on so many key issues — let alone what his vision for the country is.Wow. What an incredibly stupid statement. Quiz: what did George H.W. Bush believe about taxes? What did George W. Bush believe about balanced budgets? For that matter, what did Ronald Reagan believe about taxes, or arms control, or balanced budgets? What did Bill Clinton believe about anything? Or Roosevelt? Was he a Keynesian, or did he believe in austerity? Gosh, it seems that he flipped back and forth between them, just as Reagan hated taxes except when he was raising them, and on and on and on. These folks are politicians, not theologists; we don't get to know what they believe, and much of the time it doesn't really matter, anyway.
Ah, FDR. The main theme of Westen's piece is that Obama is a wuss and a loser because he keeps kicking the can down the road, until after the election:
The decision to put off a political decision has turned out to be a defining characteristic of this administration. Typically the magic number is 2013...Now, never mind that Westen doesn't really nail down this point. He has Obama delaying the pipeline decision, which fits what he's trying to say. But his other examples are ACA implementation, which I covered already, and the implementation of the trigger in the debt deal, which doesn't fit either. The debt deal just called for some defined cuts now and then a second round to begin later; or. in other words, it's a policy that starts now and continues into the future, just like any other policy. But even if we were to grant him that such a pattern exists:
Drew Westen, we've seen in previous pieces in the Times, thinks that FDR was a great president.
You know what can FDR kicked down the road for political reasons, to be dealt with after an election? A little something called WORLD WAR II.
I mean, really; that's what smart presidents do. They put off unpopular stuff until after elections. I suppose I can understand the argument that they shouldn't, although I strongly disagree with it, but I really can't understand the idea that Obama is in any way at all unusual in this respect. You can't get more normal presidential behavior. Of course, if you start understanding a president as often -- not entirely of course, but often -- driven by institutional, partisan, and electoral incentives, then you can't pin it all on some psychological theory of what makes the president tick, which Westen goes for, too.
I have no idea why the Times thinks it's a good idea to harm its reputation by giving this guy a regular slot, but it's just awful.