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Trying to Reinvent Obama

Dee Dee Myers is the latest Democrat to step forward offering advice to Obama. Her bottom line: change your personality. She finds him “calm,” “cool,” and “self-possessed.” The result, she says:

But while eschewing emotion — and its companion, vulnerability — Obama should be careful not to sacrifice empathy, the “I feel your pain” connection that sustained [Bill] Clinton. This connection is the shorthand people use to measure their leaders’ intentions. If people believe you’re on their side, they will trust your decisions. Too often, Obama leaves the impression that he stands alone — and likes it that way. Clinton was fond of saying, “We’re all going up or down together.” Obama must make sure that people know that he needs their help as much as they need his.

We’ve had a series of detached performances — Fort Hood and  the Christmas Day bombing — in which he was weirdly unemotional. A snippy showing at the health-care summit. And an attack on the Supreme Court. Indeed, he seems most engaged when he’s attacking his opponents, as he refers to the growing number of those who disagree with him.

Myers gives campaign-style advice in consultant-speak (“reconnect his biography to his agenda”):

Obama also needs to remind people that things weren’t always easy for him. The campaign introduced the country to a man whose life story was both unusual — a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother, a childhood spent in Hawaii and Indonesia — and broadly shared: a single mom who worked hard and sacrificed for her children and a family that faced difficult times but never lost its faith in the future.

But that all seems beside the point, oddly inappropriate for the presidency as opposed to the campaign. (There really is a difference between the two.) Something more fundamental is going on here: Obama seems not to respect his fellow citizens — the uninformed rubes who crashed the health-care town halls — nor care what they think. All his energy now is devoted to disregarding their strong aversion to his idea of health-care reform and forcing through a vote on something the public doesn’t want. It’s hard to bond with the American people, which is what Myers is suggesting, when your agenda conveys disdain for their concerns. Myers gets closer to the nub of the problem as she concludes:

Obama maintains a reservoir of goodwill. Even people who don’t approve of the job he’s doing like him personally. Most think he understands their problems and cares about people like them. In other words, people want to have a beer with him. They’re just not sure he wants to have a beer with them.

But that reservoir is being depleted over time. And who wants to have a beer with someone who doesn’t listen to anything you have to say?

It’s hard to conceal your personality in the 24/7 news cycle and in the most prominent job in the world. What was intriguing in the campaign — that cool, “superior” temperament — is now a liability. But it’s hard to change who you are. If Democrats are queasy about the president’s lacking warmth and empathy, not to mention some executive skills, there isn’t much they can do about it. Their dream candidate turned out to be rather flawed in ways that are critical to a successful presidency. They — and we — will have to live with that for a few more years.



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