James Carville’s now infamous quip—”If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama, he’d have two”—has given the media (and the GOP) the gift of another Wimp Factor moment. That is, a latter-day version of Newsweek’s 1988 “Fighting the Wimp Factor” cover, which asked if then-candidate George H.W. Bush was tough enough to be Leader of the Free World. Perception is 9/10ths of the law, and this one was hard to shake—this even though Bush was a genuine war hero, who had also run the CIA. Maybe it was his outwardly mild manner, or the timbre and strange rhythm of his voice, so brilliantly parodied by Dana Carvey.
In any event, now we have the “Obama brand” branded with a more colorfully-phrased (one expects no less from the Ragin’ Cajun) version of the Wimp Factor. This from one of the President’s ostensible allies. But Carville was just being Carville, acting as the Id of the Democratic party. (Of course Obama has been running two wars and fired his commander. One suspects he required two testicles for that.)
Still, a confluence of factors is bolstering the ornery Clintonista’s claim, at least in the eyes of the Beltway press. We have money man George Soros questioning Obama’s fight, as have many others on the left and in the “liberal media”—among them MSNBC’s Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann. For them Obama has been far too passive, both in response to unrelenting attacks from the Right, and in his continuing calls for bipartisanship in the face of the GOP’s baldly stated intention to destroy his presidency. For many in his base, the President’s post-Midterm news conference was maddening. He appeared chastened, apologetic—“Humbled,” as Murdoch’s gloating NY Post put it. Maybe Obama was trying to appear presidential, a uniter, not a divider—like his hero, Lincoln, appealing to our better angels. But the effect was that he ate crow—and cleaned his plate.
Today Politico reported on a Democratic gripe session wherein frustrated Senators implored the POTUS to show more “passion,” noting that for some time Democrats “have expressed dissatisfaction with Obama’s policy priorities, especially his determination to ram through a health care bill against the objections of party conservatives like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). The caucus’s left wing, including Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, have argued the opposite point: that Obama’s timidity has led to the defection of liberals and young people turned off by Obama compromises on the public option and economic stimulus.”
Therein lies part of Obama’s dilemma: He has a caucus that includes both Ben Nelson and Bernie Sanders and he can’t f—ing win. He’s somehow too forceful and too timid. At the same time. One senator, echoing another common theme, told Politico the major problem is one of communication—“messaging” it’s called now: Democrats and the President have been advocating and enacting policies the public wants, but have been woefully unable able to get that message across.
The unnamed senator is certainly on to something. Without question, Obama’s first two years have seen major accomplishments. But the fact that few of us can name them (but we sure know the phrase “death panels”) prompted a trio of 20-something supporters to launch this ingenious, web site (http://wtfhasobamadonesofar.com). This speaks volumes about the Administration’s inability to seize the so-called “narrative.”
Even the soothing Dr. Deepak Chopra—an ardent Obama supporter—is weighing in. Blogging on The Huffington Post, the mind-body-spirit maven heads one of his posts “One-Term Obama?” and writes “We need a President who can erase an image of weakness. Images have a way of turning into reality, and right now, the two are beginning to merge quite dangerously.” In a subsequent post, Dr. Chopra reflects, “Obama should reach deep inside and offer what the country wants emotionally. It doesn’t defeat the mind when the heart steps in. Both can grow in moments of crisis, as this moment demands of us and our president.”
That seems to be the crux. It isn’t that we need the President to fight—whatever that is; Lawrence O’Donnell, who knows the ways of Washington, has remarked that nobody fights there. They ask, the deal, they maneuver.
But the President does, however, need to connect. With his legislative agenda pretty much screwed, he needs to get out and bond with ordinary Americans, not in huge arenas but in small venues and town halls. And yes, even in bright Red states like Oklahoma, Texas and Kentucky, or in nominally Democratic states where people hate his guts, like West Virginia. People will admire him for walking into the lion’s den. And nobody will call him a wimp.
He also needs to be sharp, concise and clear about what he stands for. And he must leave no question that he stands with us. Despite a predisposition to aloof detachment, he must bond with the battered “folks” (to use one of his pet words) he professes to champion. There is a fiery, happy warrior inside Barack Obama—we saw that in abundance in 2008, and he showed flashes of it on the campaign trail this year. When he finds it, we will come. And then no one—not the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Congress, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin‘s Facebook page—can stop him.
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