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Richard Cohen: Obama Is No Reagan

My how the bloom is off the Obama rose. Richard Cohen sounds, well, like a CONTENTIONS blogger:

No one is accusing Obama of being likable. He is not unlikable, but he lacks Reagan’s (or Bill Clinton’s) warmth. What’s more, his career has been brief. He led no movement, was spokesman for no ideology and campaigned like a Nike sneaker — change instead of swoosh. He seems distant. No Irish jokes from him. For the average voter, he casts no shadow.

Reagan, by contrast, had been around forever. He was not defined solely by gauzy campaign ads but by countless speeches, two contentious and highly controversial terms as California governor, and a previous race for the presidency. There was never a question about who Reagan was and what he stood for. Not so Obama. About all he shares with Reagan at this point are low ratings.

I confess I am always baffled when pundits and voters say they like Obama but not his policies. What has been ingratiating about him? He’s thin-skinned, prickly, and robotic. He’s unduly nasty to political opponents. He doesn’t seem to like us (especially ordinary Americans who have taken to the streets and town halls), so why should we like him?

I suspect the canned response (“Oh sure, we like him, just not his handling of [fill in the blank]”) is a form of politeness, perhaps even wariness of expressing personal distaste for our first African American president. The idea of Obama has proved infinitely more attractive than the reality. Not even liberals like him anymore.

But Cohen’s not done:

What has come to be called the Obama Paradox is not a paradox at all. Voters lack faith in him making the right economic decisions because, as far as they’re concerned, he hasn’t. He went for health-care reform, not jobs. He supported the public option, then he didn’t. He’s been cold to Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and then all over him like a cheap suit. Americans know Obama is smart. But we still don’t know him. Before Americans can give him credit for what he’s done, they have to know who he is. We’re waiting.

Or perhaps they know who he is (the prototypical Ivy League leftist) and still don’t like him. I will leave to others to debate whether he is “smart” or merely glib. (At the health-care summit, did he seem as smart as Paul Ryan?) What we do know is that he hasn’t been smart on politics (ask Nancy Pelosi), on the economy, or on the war on terror (how smart is it to excise the name of our enemy?).

The degree to which the entire debate has shifted is striking. We know how he has enraged and motivated conservatives. But now the left makes little or no effort to defend their once-messianic figure and seems to parrot many of the right’s complaints. If this is how Cohen, a rather reliable liberal voice, feels about Obama, imagine what independent voters in Ohio and Indiana and California must be thinking. We’ll get a hint this November.



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