Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday Reading

Short-Term Memory Loss — Why the GOP sideshow will leave President Obama unscathed.

Remember the Chuck Hagel fight?

If you’re reading about politics, of course you remember the fight that took up a fair amount of space in the political press over the last month.

Most Americans, however, ignored the whole thing; even among those dimly aware of it, the memory will fade rapidly. And that suggests an important lesson for Barack Obama in this flap: Don’t worry about losing a few news cycles. If it’s just about media flaps, the president has much more room for risk-taking than he may realize.

First, the evidence. There’s very limited polling, but what there is suggests no one was paying any attention. A Quinnipiac poll taken at the beginning of February found a net-unfavorable rating … but with only 14 percent liking the former Nebraska senator, 18 percent not liking him, and an overwhelming 67 percent saying that they didn’t have an opinion. That’s before either of the filibuster votes on the Senate floor, but after his well-publicized Senate hearing.

That’s not unusual. There’s plenty of things that capture the attention of people who are intensely interested in politics, which everyone else ignores unless they have a particular interest in it. Personnel flaps similar to the Hagel nomination are likely suspects. Think, if you remember them, of similar controversies around Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod or Peter Diamond. Each of these was all the talk of Washington for a while, and then it wasn’t. Most people, however, hardly noticed any of them.

Moreover, we know that the more people pay attention to politics, the more partisan they are likely to be. That’s important, because it means that those people who did pay attention to the Chuck Hagel nomination fight are the most likely to interpret it through their strongly held partisan biases: Democrats will support the president, Republicans will oppose him.

What all that means is that these kinds of controversies, even fairly large ones, are very unlikely to matter at all. Most people ignore them; everyone else merely sticks to their previous opinions.

And that suggests that presidents are a lot more free to take risks than they realize. Presidents tend to be very careful to avoid negative publicity, and that’s understandable. But as much as it’s surely no fun to have the national press all bashing you for something, it’s just not clear that it’s really all that bad.

Face Value — John Cassidy at The New Yorker: The Bob Woodward kerfuffle shows what happens when journalists become part of the story.

For whatever reason—anger at the White House’s efforts to spin the sequester dispute; personal animus towards Obama; a genuine misinterpretation of what happened in 2011—Woodward threw an interception. Two, actually. If he’d stuck to pointing out that the sequester was a White House proposal, albeit one that was forced upon it by the G.O.P.’s willingness to force a debt default, he would have been fine; by accusing the President of doing a U-turn on revenues he went too far. And in accusing Sperling of threatening him, he greatly compounded his error and brought the world down upon himself.

That’s regrettable. For all his faults, Woodward is an industrious reporter, who, at the age of sixty-nine, is still out there conducting interviews and taking notes. In any dispute between the White House and a journalist, my first instinct is to support the latter. In trying to discredit stories and books it doesn’t like, and the writers responsible for them, this Administration, like many before it, has showed itself capable of acting ruthlessly and callously. Woodward isn’t just any reporter, though, and on this occasion he opened himself up to ridicule. Going forward, perhaps he should stick to reported articles and books, which presumably get edited and fact-checked, and leave the op-eds and interviews with Politico to the subjects of his stories.

Rolling Along — A Rolls-Royce still carries a touch of class, even if it is showing its age.

Parked in front of a Century 21 real estate office in Upper Montclair, N.J., the regal automobile drew glances from people in passing cars and on foot.

Even if only a few of them recognized this imposing two-tone blue sedan as a Rolls-Royce, they could readily confirm that the tall man in a dark blue pinstripe suit and trench coat standing next to the driver’s door was its owner. Filling the window of each rear door was a sign with a photo of the man, David Michael Leedy, and his wife, Donna. Both are real estate agents working from this office.

Mr. Leedy has owned this 1975 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow since 2009. He sometimes uses it in his work, chauffeuring clients to see listings and parking the car at open houses, a tactic that he said helped attract attention and potential buyers. His other vehicle, a Chrysler minivan, uses less gas, but the Rolls offers more panache.

“It helps me stand out in a crowded market,” he said.

Mr. Leedy’s recent listings include an assortment of colonials, raised Cape Cods and two-family homes in Bloomfield, Clifton and Belleville, middle-class northern Jersey towns straddling the Passaic River and Garden State Parkway. On a gray winter’s day, the area appeared ready for the freshening effect of spring; the same might be said of Mr. Leedy’s Rolls-Royce, a point he made several times.

“It’s far from perfect,” he said, his apologetic tone hinting that one might reasonably expect any Rolls, even one that is 38 years old, to be kept pristine.

The paint has lost a bit of its luster, and there are a few scuffs and dings on the body. But two hallmarks of the brand — the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament and the upright grille, a monument of polished stainless-steel — still gleam.

Doonesbury — Made fresh daily.