01.03.10

Things to Stop Bitching About in 2010

Some chestnuts we need to retire in the new year: Obama is too cool. The Internet is killing newspapers. And the Goldman bonuses are worth getting riled up about.

1) Obama's lack of emotional connection.

It's all the rage at the moment to denounce the president's cool and his "inability to connect." Where did the inspiring Obama of the campaign go, that Facebook pied piper who friended the whole world with this update: Change you can believe in. What happened to him?

Nothing, as it turns out... Obama was always this guy. When I met him in 2007 along with a small group of New York donors, he was just the same as he is as president. A bit wordy, a bit aloof, a bit theoretical. There was a hint of truculence when challenged to be specific on policy. The gaggle of demanding Park Avenue big shots who shared the elevator with me on the way down were underwhelmed. They also felt vaguely dissed. He had failed to make a fuss of any of them.

The president is never going to go back to being “the Obama we voted for.”

Was there a contradiction between that cool customer and the orator who brought out and turned on huge crowds on the campaign trail? Not really. Obama's gift for delivering set-piece oratorical tours de force had special resonance to Americans fed up with a president who could hardly string two words together without a collision of syntax and whose idea of clever was the single entendre.

Bush's stubborn inarticulateness may have played as sincerity and determination in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, but eventually it became a metaphor for incompetence. Obama's grown-upness was a sensation. His suave coolness drove people into a frenzy. Give Obama a script he has made his own and he is the motivational speaker to end all speakers. Tony Robbins cloned with Honest Abe.

And that is the irony for Obama's Internet-age supporters. The president has a writer's temperament more than he has a politician's.

He prefers his public utterances to be informed by fully formed thoughts that come to him after he has pondered. In contrast to the Twitter generation that flocked to his campaign, he doesn't believe his first thought is his best thought. He has a lawyerly preference for caution.

Cruising on YouTube the other day, I caught a clip from Netroots Nation in August in which Bill Clinton was challenged about not doing enough in office for gays with his "don't ask, don't tell" cop-out. The way the former president engaged with his humble heckler was the ultimate contrast: an astonishing, fact-crammed, passion-fuelled, eye-blazing defense of his own record that was especially startling (and, yes, invigorating) after a year of Obama's judiciously crafted stemwinders.

But hey, you go to war with the president you have, to paraphrase our old friend Donald Rumsfeld. Would we prefer Obama to snatch up his bullhorn and start hollering "bring it on!" when the latest jock-strap jihadist is apprehended at the airport? I thought we hated all that bellicose Bush-era posturing. Obama achieved something in his first year with health care that successive presidents have been unable to achieve. Sure, he turns out to be something we never expected—a bit of a bore who is too fast to compromise and too slow to anger. But the left needs to get over itself. Obama has not failed them. The left failed the Rorschach Test in which they thought they saw the real Obama. The president is never going to go back to being "the Obama we voted for."

2) Newspapers are dying because of the Internet. Investigative journalism is finished!

What a load of Spam! American newspapers are dying mostly because they were so dull for so long a whole generation gave up on them. They needed to innovate back in the Fax Age of the 1980s but were too self-important and making too much money with their monopolies to acknowledge it.

In the U.K., there is a banquet of glorious newspapers to feast on in the morning despite the presence of the Internet. All of these papers look nothing like they did 15 years ago. Furrow-browed broadsheets like The Times of London and The Guardian got snappy new overhauls, cut down to a more modern-feeling tabloid size, with a use of pictures and color that's imaginative and striking and appealing to the younger demographic.

These "serious" papers are replete with sexy culture coverage and hip fashion stories as well as foreign reporting and brainiac columnists that make them a guilty pleasure to read. It's one of the biggest fibs going that American newspapers are now being forced to give up their commitment to investigative reporting. Most of them gave up long ago as their greedy managements squeezed every cent out of the bottom line and turned their newsrooms into eunuchs. As for the Internet thieving the bona fide news reporters' hard-worked stories, "Back at ya!" is all I can say. Online writers for years have had their stories ripped off by newspapers with no credit. At least the Internet links to the things it steals. Whatever his views on this issue, by the way, Rupert Murdoch has greatly improved The Wall Street Journal. Leave it to an Aussie to give American journalism a swift kick in its down under.

3) Lloyd Blankfein and the Goldman Sachs bonuses.

Let's stop pretending that investment bankers got into their line of work for reasons other than Willie "because-that's where-the-money-is" Sutton's. Goldman's CEO Blankfein has had more opprobrium heaped on his billiard-ball head (including by The Daily Beast's Charlie Gasparino) than any corporate leader since Vlad the Impaler. His offense is that he is just scarily good at making money. That's unlovable, I agree, when everyone else is broke. But Goldman is not the reason so many people can't get mortgages.

One of the more preposterous inferences I read in 2009 was in Jenny Anderson's front-page story in The New York Times, which gave an approving nod to the cadre of ex-Goldman people who now moan that "Mr. Blankfein has built a money machine that, while it still values its customers, culture and reputation, puts profits above all." Isn't that what he is supposed to do?

The larger question is why business reporters routinely idolized money-machine CEOs with suck-up covers on Fortune, etc., and never questioned what they were doing to the economy any more than the banksters did. New York without their excess isn't exactly fabulous either. (There is a name for New York minus the excess. It's called "Philadelphia.") Ask the workers in New York's service industry. The city is currently overrun with the new version of the Bonus Army in 1932—out-of-work waiters, barmen, florists, drivers, real-estate brokers, nannies, maids, decorators, manicurists, carpenters, house painters, and all the miserable, broke handlers of "luxury" goods and the shop assistants who gift-wrapped them. Excess and luxury is to New York's economy what tax hikes and stimulus packages are to Washington's. Maybe in 2010 we should pray for more of what we fondly used to trash as "egregious corporate boondoggles" to rescue the staffs of our empty five-star hotels.

4) And finally: Let's not hear any more from Democrats being shocked about Republican obstructionism.

In a GOP bereft of any one leader that can inspire its faithful to say yes to, it's Mitch McConnell's job to hold down the fort by saying "No." Besides, complaining about McConnell only saps valuable time away from objecting vehemently to Joe Lieberman. Save your strength. It's going to be a long year.

Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.