That “something” is hard to describe. But it is more character than policy-driven, and more of an absence than a presence. Obama’s supporters were always attracted more to personality traits they saw (or imagined) in Obama than in his actions or his thin resume. And now it is once again personality traits that are the main focus, although this time as a problem: Obama is seen as strangely passive and passionless, tongue-tied and stalled.
How bad an executive and leader Obama has shown himself to be has genuinely surprised the left and the MSM, although neither failing should have been a surprise at all. But as a result the press is now caught in a trap of its own making — one that, strangely enough, Obama foresaw and described.
In The Audacity of Hope, Obama made a famous comment likening himself to a blank screen on which people projected their views, and added that therefore, he was bound to ultimately disappoint many of them. He attributed this blankness to his newness on the political scene, but others have attributed it to his seemingly deliberate vagueness; a phenomenon that encouraged people to imagine him to be whatever they wanted.
The press cooperated by projecting mightily, just as Obama intuited they would, envisioning him as a president who would not only right the wrongs of Bush, but do it with style and flair and incisive intelligence and efficiency. And now, if they criticize Obama, they must eat their previous words, as well risk banishment from what little press access they have, and ostracism from the cozy club of the like minded.
But there may be no turning back for the press. Rhetoric and promise can only take a president so far. Events happen, and they must be dealt with.
David Broder of the Washington Post gets it, comparing Obama’s performance during the oil spill not to the obvious analogy, Bush and Katrina, but to an event even more distant in time and space: Carter and the Iran hostage crisis, which Broder calls a “demonstration of monumental futility and incompetence.” As for the oil spill, although Broder refuses to condemn Obama, he admits that now he “owns” the oil spill and must suffer the consequences.
Broder understands what was the final straw for Carter’s popularity and his reputation. The Iranian hostage crisis precipitated and crystallized a public perception of almost endless failure and impotence on the part of the chief executive. That is what Obama risks now, and that is what the left is understandably tense and troubled about.
Broder writes of Carter:
The chart talks demonstrating that we had figured out where the hostages were being held didn’t do Carter a lick of good when voters were aching to see the captives walk into their families’ arms.
And now, as the oil gushes from a pipe near the ocean floor and oozes onto the beaches of the Gulf, and coats the feathers of the birds of the sea, voters are aching to see Obama either work some sort of leadership and live up to a portion of his hype, or at the very least to ache with them. The indisputable fact that he has failed to do either represents a moment of truth for those who believed in him, and did so visibly and in print.