New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was losing some of her ga-ga over Barack Obama even before he took office, and her disenchantment with him has been a living and growing thing ever since. In the wake of his failure to get a mandatory background check for firearms purchases through the Senate despite polls that consistently show 90 percent popular support for such a measure, Dowd has not simply taken off the gloves, but slipped on the brass knucks. The Barack Obama who leaps off her keyboard these days is so diffident, so it's "not my fault," so focused on what he professes to see as the limitations on his powers, prerogatives, options, and even his obligations when it comes to trying to make just a few people do what he wants on a matter of national import that he makes Dwight Eisenhower and maybe even Calvin Coolidge look like dynamically activist presidents.
The Ol' Bloviator has said before that Mr. Obama actually most reminds him of Woodrow Wilson, who thought his idealism so pure and well-articulated that he might get the United States into the League of Nations after World War I by simply going "over the heads" of the Senate in 1918-1919 and appealing directly to "the people." Unfortunately, for the self-absorbed Woody W., "the people" were a largely disillusioned lot who had just seen American boys shot, maimed, gassed, and otherwise messed up in what Wilson had exalted as "the war to end all wars" but wound up simply sowing the seeds for a much wider and bloodier conflict a generation on down the road. There is no way of knowing how most voters truly felt about joining this proposed international peace-keeping organization, but in the end, it didn't really matter for the majority Republican Senate killed the measure after Wilson refused to accept certain amendments proposed by his personal and professional arch-nemesis Henry Cabot Lodge. In the end, Mr. Wilson's comeuppance suggests that, as Ms. Dowd observed of Barack Obama's presidential approach, "You can go over the head of Washington, but it doesn't get you anything in Washington."
As things have gone from bad to badder, the once enthralled media types have made it clear that their personal partisan biases are no match for the primal impulses triggered by even a slight tinge of pinkness in the water, plunging into a near feeding frenzy, with their one-time idol Barry O. as the main course. As Assault Weapons-gate piled in on top of Benghazi-gate, followed quickly by IRS-gate and then Snoop-gate, the "one-time Messiah," as Dowd put it, suddenly "seems like a sad sack." There is no escape from this current perception for Barry O, it seems, even when he goes abroad to places like Berlin, where he drew a crowd of 200,000 in 2008 and appeared to seal for posterity his image as an international "rock star." However, the Obama who sweated plumb through his duds and got all flummoxed when a teleprompter died on him in Berlin this week gave the impression of a man desperately in search of his misplaced mojo.
Writer Jonathan Alter, who once seemed trapped in a permanent lip lock on Obama's hindparts, notes that even "without liking the business he has chosen," Obama is the first president in fifty years to win a majority in two elections. Yet, for all that, with his second term just underway, the President has left no room for doubt that he's "missing the schmooze gene." Things have gone so rotten for Obama that, according to a new CNN poll, even younger Americans, whom he once mesmerized by the millions, are figuratively un-friending him to the tune of a 17 percent decline in their support over the last month.
A commenter's suggestion that the Obama camp is hemorrhaging Millenials because he has "proved temperamentally unsuited for the partisan battles required by the times" bears examination in several respects, one of them being whether he is "temperamentally unsuited" even for the practical demands of leading his own party or, for that matter, any group not wholly and unreservedly committed to the task of remolding the country or the world according to the Barackian vision. Beyond that is the matter of how a man of such intelligence could seek the presidency of the United States, almost certainly aware that he was "temperamentally unsuited" for partisan conflict. (Think of a guy who always orders the cheese plate entering a pie-eating contest.) The best answer here seems to be that he really didn't anticipate that much conflict, once his views became known and their wisdom and intelligence made manifest. This is obviously way too simplistic a take on Obama's fade from sizzle to fizzle, but as explanations go, an inadequate but at least defensible one seems better than mere puzzlement and exasperation.
In today's high-tech, cyber-savvy world of political reportage, every event or trend is conveyed and interpreted with urgency and immediacy, but the process leading to actual political outcomes proceeds at a more deliberate pace. There is certainly still time for Obama to preserve and expand his political legacy, although for that to happen, some things will have to change. If we can be certain of anything that isn't going to change, it is the tactics of his Republican antagonists. On this point, Obama's critics within his own party should consider that few presidents in the modern era have been confronted with anything remotely like the sustained, kamikaze-style personal and political attacks and blatant obstructionism that this president has faced since Day One of his administration. If the fact that these tactics have done little or nothing to bolster the interests or popular standing of the GOP has not become clear to them by now, then there would seem to be precious little reason to expect them to alter their course now. This may well indicate mental acuity deficit on their part, but it is also quite likely a most unflattering reflection of the realities of American politics. Polls may suggest this or that, but in the end, it comes down not nearly so much to aggregated opinion as concentrated, unswerving majority-be-damned opinion, especially if this dogma comes with a big bucks payload affixed. Despite the fog of idealism or ideological purity in which they enshroud themselves, the persistence of some Republicans in their suicide-bomber approach to politics should force us at least to consider the ugly possibility that there are folks with money and pull who could hardly care less about who's in the White House, so long as certain things don't get done in Congress.
Overall favorability ratings may still make Obama look like the Incredible Hulk doing battle with a Congress full of Lilliputians, but it takes 468 individual elections a Congress to make and some of his most irksome and strategically placed antagonists look also to be among the most politically secure. If the President is to regain what once seemed a truly gargantuan political stature, it behooves him to learn to stoop a little more, whether it be to flatter, cajole, or, if need be, squash some of those he seems currently to regard as unworthy even of Cool Hand Barry's contempt.