In writing this blog, I try to swim against a strong current that leads to denigrating presidential campaigns and administrations as incompetent or worse. I too often succumb and take the cheap shot instead of remembering what should be a bedrock value of a true insider: empathy.
Like most things, politics is harder than it looks. The pressure, the speed, the amount of conflicting information, the pull of the media, the push of the chattering class, the eye-bagging, bone-deadening exhaustion of the campaign every single day from the time you wake up to your five hours of sleep, seven days a week, month after month.
And, of course, there are the things often beyond the campaign’s control: the performance of the candidate, for example, or an unpredictable news story.
Some of the Romney people have been hard at it for almost two years; a few of Obama’s going on eight. There is a big jump from the Triple A of Senate and gubernatorial campaigns to the “show” of the presidential campaign; marriages dissolve, friendships fray, many people suffer from a long period of reentry after the campaign finally ends. And yes, under this strain, people in campaigns and administrations make mistakes: small and big.
My empathy for campaigns flared when I read Drew Westen’s well-trafficked opinion piece this weekend in The Post analyzing all the mistakes President Obama and his team made in his first term that will make it hard for him to win a second, Nothing wrong with his analysis: Many others, including this blogger, have made similar points about Obama’s failure to seek a smarter stimulus, letting the debate over the health-care bill get away from him and trying to accommodate intransigent Republicans when he should have rolled them.
What bugs me is that in his piece Westen is guilty of what I do sometimes: Assume the right decisions are easily discernible through the “fog of war” that is politics. He criticizes on limited situational information or awareness. Westen, a psychologist and a political consultant, seems to do this quite a bit; his book “The Political Brain” is scathing in its dismissal of the Gore and Kerry campaigns, and many other unsuccessful campaigns in which he believes that the Democrats tried reason and the Republicans trumped them with emotion.
Westen tends the orphanage that is defeat and failure in politics, to quote half of John Kennedy’s phrase, with an imperious hand. A little more gentleness might be better every now and then.