“In a plea for unity, candidate Obama said lack of empathy was ‘the essential deficit that exists in this country.’ He defined it as ‘an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.’
“Yet, as president, Obama has demonstrated an almost pathological incapacity to connect with American’s fear and despair over the future Whether it was the Gulf oil spill or a woman’s heartbreaking pleading at a recent town hall meeting, Obama’s much ballyhooed coolness seems more icy than reassuring.
“Nobody is asking Obama to have a meltdown. That would hardly be presidential. What Americans need is, yes, for Obama to feel their pain…
“Some Obama backers will cry that it’s not Obama’s job to be Empathizer-in-Chief. This could not be more misguided. In fact, one of the most important roles of a president is an ability to lead the electorate through tough times. If he can’t do that, then he will lose power and the ability to enact policies.”
“That observation has gained wide acceptance in Washington. Mr. Obama may have played like a rock star in the campaign arenas of 2008, according to this view, but he displays a Spock-like emotional aridity in more intimate settings. In reality, however, a look back at previous midterm elections, especially during economic weakness, suggests that dollars and cents matter far more than hugs or lip-biting…
“Despite President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s celebrated World War II record, voters didn’t ‘like Ike’ enough to keep his fellow Republicans from losing 48 House seats amid the 1958 recession. For all his talents, Mr. Clinton watched his party lose control of both the House and Senate in the 1994 midterm election, in which economic weakness was one of many factors. ‘We have a controlled experiment,’ observed Stan Greenberg, one of Mr. Clinton’s pollsters, downplaying the significance of Mr. Obama’s empathic skills. ‘Clearly Bill Clinton had the ability to connect emotionally. He got slaughtered in 1994.'”
“Democrats are going through some serious soul-searching. They won their majorities and the White House thanks to Bush and an unpopular war, but without Bush as a foil, maybe they would still be wandering in the political wilderness. There’s a loss of confidence. If Obama has lost his touch, so have they. Can they win elections and gain ground without Bush on the scene? Obama was a prodigy in ’08, mastering the Internet to connect with people and inspiring millions of new voters with his intellect and his personal narrative. But then he came to Washington and joined the government and became legislator in chief.
“The problem is that governing successfully is not about legislation, it’s about culture and vision, keeping that connection with the people and giving them reason to believe in the course you’ve set, whether or not it gets 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans are advancing the notion that Obama will stand down for reelection—why else would he continue to press ahead with political losers like cap-and-trade and immigration that they can so easily caricature as bad for the country? Their theory is that as a card-carrying member of the intellectual elite, Obama is more comfortable in a university library than battling a conservative backlash…
“Campaign operatives who sided with Obama against Hillary Clinton, often at some personal cost, aren’t regretting the choice they made, but some wonder whether the magic can be recaptured. I got an earful this week when I made some calls. ‘The Obama we fell in love with on the campaign trail is gone,’ lamented one activist. ‘I don’t know where that Obama is.’“