The forum matched his lawyerly skills -- and, less flatteringly, his tendency to act like the smartest guy in the room.
Now I'd say that if Obama were the smartest guy in the room, then it would be irresponsible of him to ignore that fact. That question is not addressed at all in the article.
More importantly, no questions of substance were addressed in the article. It was all 100% about style.
It appears that, to Milbank, claiming that someone else's assertion on a matter of fact is incorrect is bad form. If people followed his rules of how not to act like you are the smartest guy in the room, then facts would have no effect on the debate.
The scary thing, is that I think that Milbank knows this. I think he is going meta or horse race, that is, he has noticed that the people of the USA don't like people who know a lot. He clearly thinks that it's not his problem to decide if this is a crippling national neurosis which leads to idiocy like electing George W Bush. If it's not his problem, whose problem is it ?
update: Welcome Krugmen and Krugwomen. Yes I am indeed so vain. My reaction on opening his blog was "another link to Brad... why doesn't he ever link to meeeeee" and then "heeeyyyyy that's my name."
Note (as I didn't in the post I wish I had written better) that Milbank didn't say that Obama acted as if he thinks he's the smartest person in the room. The problem is acting like the smartest guy in the room. As written it isn't a statement about self esteme, but about smartness. I believe that Milbank is thinking of knowledge not intelligence, and that he is saying that it is a mistake for someone to demonstrate that he or she knows more than others.
Also, "going meta or horserace" is two feeble attempts to name the phenomenon. I just learned a much better name coined by David Sirota the "Media's ... Innocent Bystander Fable" so I guess the verb form would be "to stand by innocently" and I should have said that Milbank was "innoncently standing by." or, clarity before elegance, written that Milbank was going all innocent bystander on his readers.
I got to Sirota via Glenn Greenwald's post on Newsweeks discussion of the aversion to describing the IRS attacker Joe Stack as a "terrorist"
This is a good example of the innocent bystander fable.
There could not be a better example.
After that post, various Newsweek employees fiercely protested that they were *not* discussing and endorsing Newsweek's aversion to using the word, but rather innocent bystanders discussing the fact that others don't use the word.
Greenwald notes that the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" do not appear in the Newsweek article reporting on Stack.
I have no doubt that the many Newsweek employees who are furious with Greenwald are absolutely sincere -- that it just didn't occur to them that their magazine could contain the phenomenon which they were discussing.
They don't seem to understand that this is much much worse than conciously choosing to avoid the words terrorist and terrorism for the reasons they gave. They appear to be sincerely dumfounded that the text of newsweek is supposed to be part of the rality with which Newsweek employees should be familiar (at least when they are discussing the discussion).
Think of it. They write "we weren't talking about Newsweek. We were talking about the media organs which won't call Stark a terrorist a group. A group which includes Newsweek, but we couldn't have been expected to notice that (although we are qualified to read the minds of those people other than ourselves who did exactly the same thing we collectively did).
update 2: Pulled back from comments
There is a hidden premise behind the view that pointing out factual errors constitutes "condescension." It is that the purpose of politics is the assertion of identity rather than attaining any concrete objective. I had more to say about that here.
There was another comment which I didn't like so much.
Steve in comments gives me a whole new appreciation of the word "condescension"
Even assuming that the data is accurate and everybody's using the same dictionary, in a world of incomplete information there are almost always several logically plausible ways to interpret a given set of facts.
"Here are the facts:"
1. The State of Florida has the highest concentration of physicians in the U.S.
2. The State of Florida has the highest death rate in the U.S.
We can interpret these facts a number of ways:
1. Physicians cause death.
2. High death rates attract physicians.
3. Both the high concentration of physicians and the high death rate are caused by other variables (e.g. the high concentration of elderly Floridians).
C'mon, Doc, I shouldn't have to make this point to an econ professor.
This is also a comment at Krugman's blog. That would be the Krugman who likes to use the phrase "accidental theorist."