Conventional wisdom watch

When it was still somewhat readable, the late Newsweek magazine used to have a weekly Conventional Wisdom Watch feature (saluted here, for example). With arrows pointing up or down, it advised whose standing had risen or fallen in the past week according to the CW. The CW watch had a postmodern twist to it because Newsweek was itself a pillar of the conventional wisdom.

I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that Margaret Carlson is the conventional wisdom personified, is it? She made her name at Time, where she became the magazine’s “first woman columnist,” as she advertises herself. At Time she covered four presidential elections. While at Time she spent ten years as a panelist holding down the liberal wing on CNN’s Capital Gang. She now writes a weekly column for Bloomberg News.

Judging by her column this week, Barack Obama’s arrow has turned down in a big way. Carlson adopts a tone of asperity that borders on bitterness in the column, sarcastically titled “Is Obamacare challenging enough for Obama?” Carlson writes:

Two statements explain the huge failure of Obamacare. One is by President Barack Obama, the other is about him.

The first was made in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the end of the 2008 primary campaign, when candidate Obama predicted that generations would look back and see his nomination as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Couple this with the assessment of his closest aide, Valerie Jarrett, about his exceptionalism. “He knows exactly how smart he is,” she told Obama biographer David Remnick. “And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them.”

Obama “has never really been challenged intellectually,” she went on. “He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

Or what an ordinary president does, for that matter….

The evidence of Obama’s destined failure cited by Carlson has been in the public domain for a long time, so it seems a little late for Carlson to be picking up on it now. Like the CW, she is a lagging indicator.

Newsweek editor Jonathan Alter said of it at the time the Newsweek feature was running: “We’re trying to make fun of that cynicism in the political culture, about the self-seriousness in which people proclaim the CW with utter certitude, and then a week later it’s turned 180 degrees and they sail off in the other direction with utter certitude.”

It’s wise to be contrarian. Carlson’s column is making me nervous as hell.


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