Quotes of the day

As Democrats head to Charlotte for this week’s convention, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is heading back on the campaign trail later this week with a new message: the hope and change that President Barack Obama promised four years ago has left people disappointed…

“It has been a disappointing four years,” Romney said. “And I think for that reason, people of Ohio, even those who like him a lot will say, you know, he is just not up to the job.”


Just as Mitt Romney’s challenge last week at the Republican National Convention was to connect on a personal level with voters and make them comfortable with the idea of him sitting in the Oval Office, President Obama’s challenge this week at the Democratic National Convention is to reignite the flame—the passion among young and Latino voters that burned four years ago but is now just a smoldering ember…

Among the 9,659 registered voters interviewed by the Gallup Organization’s tracking polls Aug. 6-26, Romney and Obama were tied overall at 46 percent. But Obama beat Romney by 24 points, 58 percent to 34 percent, among voters ages 18-29 and by a whopping 32 points, 61 percent to 29 percent, among Latinos. In each case, the percentage who say they will definitely vote is significantly lower than it is among other demographic groups who view Obama less charitably.


Barack Obama could have learned something from LBJ. As a candidate Obama promised to change the way Washington works and he rode a wave of global support into the White House. His first two years in office have repeatedly been compared to the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Society under Johnson, with historic achievements on health care, Wall Street reform and other domestic priorities.

But Obama’s first term has also left many of his supporters wondering whether those accomplishments could have been bigger in size, scope and impact. The health care reform legislation was built largely off a conservative model, with millions of people shuttled into the private market. The financial regulatory reform bill contained carve-outs for the private sector and is widely regarded as not far-reaching enough to curb some of the banking industry’s worst practices. The White House made little effort to push labor priorities like the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have granted workers more avenues to form unions. The Iraq war may have ended, but the war in Afghanistan heated up, with lingering confusion as to why troops remain there…

Van Jones, a former White House official whose background in grassroots organizing gave him a different perspective from those of officials who’d come from the Clinton administration, summed up the consternation felt by many Obama supporters.

“Who killed the hope?” Jones wondered. “And what happened?”


The expectation was that Obama represented a new brand of politics, marshaling ideas, language and tactics in ways that would constitute a break from Democratic orthodoxy. The reality is that Obama, so far, has presented no set of ideas that collectively represent anything that might last beyond his term as “Obamism.” His West Wing staff, and his governing agenda, have their roots deep in the traditional Democratic soil of Chicago and Capitol Hill.

The expectation was that Obama’s governing style would find fresh uses of the presidential platform, inspiring public pressure to forge new governing coalitions. The reality is that Obama by his own admission has not used his pulpit in creative ways — failing to “tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism,” as he told a CBS News interviewer this summer. And, far from breaking a generation-long partisan standoff in Washington, Obama’s presidency has been almost entirely defined by it.

The expectation was that Obama would be a dazzling personal presence in Washington, lighting the capital with an electric surge of power and glamour that would revive JFK’s Camelot with an African-American hue. The reality is that Obama’s cultural impact has been virtually nil. His weekends are that of a typical middle-aged suburban professional, hanging out with wife and daughters, except when he’s not retreating with a small collection of friends to the basketball court or golf course…

“The worst thing that ever happened him was that he was saddled with a myth before he ever earned it,” said Smith.


Conservatives who consider Obama a thinly disguised Leninist will be surprised that liberals have grown disenchanted with their onetime hero. But you can’t underestimate the naïveté and ignorance that inflated the bubble of the Obama Delusion — how fragile it was, how vulnerable to the first pinprick of reality. It turns out they really did expect a “transformative” presidency that would move us beyond left and right. They meant it! And in this childish belief they were encouraged by their candidate, who might have meant it too, for the same reasons. Obama’s admiration for Barack Obama, after all, was even greater than theirs, and his ignorance of the messy practical realities of self-government almost as complete…

As for the personal chilliness that disappoints Fallows, we should be surprised that he’s surprised. The self-love that freed Obama to portray himself during the campaign in laughably grandiose (but inspirational!) terms accounts for his “inability to connect with people” in smaller settings. Now that his workplace has moved from the center of college sports arenas where he was surrounded by hysterical youngsters to offices and hallways and conference tables where men of guile and cunning gather, the power of his ego has failed him.


Obama’s pattern is this: Make a promise; break the promise; insist that you’ve kept the promise, and hope the press gives you a free pass. When called out, resort to absurd word parsing. This is how Obama campaigns, and it is how he governs

Still, in his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama said, “we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.” When I pressed the White House on this, it defended the claim, writing: “As the President said we have turned away lobbyists for many, many positions.”

This sleight of hand is not a one-off. Obama does it over and over.


When first elected, Obama supposedly sought to secure his personal and political identity by emulating Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals,” enlisting political opposites to his inner circle. This included making Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in a hotly contested 2008 primary contest, his secretary of state and keeping on Defense Chief Robert Gates, who served in that capacity under Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

Today, the “Team of Rivals” is more appearance than reality. “He thought it was a great idea and ever since he’s backtracked, he didn’t really do it,” Maraniss says. When top appointments are made, the paramount consideration usually is how the people fit the president’s “comfort” zone

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, noted the other day that he had just finished reading the fourth installment of Robert Caro’s epic biography of Lyndon Johnson. He thought of the contrast with Obama. “Johnson,” Bush says, “would have grabbed people by the shoulders, ears, head. He would have convinced John Boehner that it was his patriotic duty to step up. He would have charmed whoever was the guy who needed to be charmed, or the gal, to get the budget done.”


[E]ven those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities. The cloistered nature of the White House amplifies those tendencies, said Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, adding that the same thing happened to his former boss. “There’s a reinforcing quality,” he said, a tendency for presidents to think, I’m the best at this…

For someone dealing with the world’s weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who monitors his outings, and he asks superior players for tips that have helped lower his scores. He decompresses with card games on Air Force One, but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand (“You’re not playing, you’re just gambling,” he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer)…

Asked if there was anything at which the president allowed himself to just flat-out fail, Mr. Nesbitt gave a long pause. “If he picks up something new, at first he’s not good, but he’ll work until he gets better,” he said.


The sense that Obama simply won’t sacrifice his brand, or image as a winner, for the greater Democratic good is widespread in Democratic circles. Over the past four years, he has led his party through the political wars, including some they didn’t want to fight, while managing to forge only a handful of new relationships with Democrats outside his tight circle. He’s toiled shoulder to shoulder with his party’s leaders, but just as assiduously distanced himself from his fellow Democrats to cultivate the image of bipartisanship or avoid the taint of single-digit congressional approval ratings.

These days, Obama’s messaging is strikingly in tune with that of down-ballot Democrats. Yet there’s a nagging sense among some headed to Charlotte that Obama is an enthusiastic Democrat who remains oddly unenthusiastic about other Democrats…

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly chided Obama’s top aides, including Axelrod, Jack Lew and Gene Sperling, over the White House’s lack of attention to House Democrats and Obama’s rhetorical habit of lumping all members of Congress into the same political refuse heap. Senators have also made their frustrations known behind closed doors, with Axelrod absorbing a fair amount of the flak aimed at his boss — including a memorable tongue-lashing from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) over health care messaging in 2010.


All of which leaves the question of what would happen in a second Obama term.

The president’s advisers believe the instinct for consensus remains part of Obama’s basic political makeup — though Republicans still do not. Obama’s team points to the fact that whether as president of the Harvard Law Review or as a member of the Illinois Senate, he found ways to bring together people of opposing views. The current campaign, however, could make hitting a reset button more difficult — if that is the president’s hope or intention.

After the rancor of the past few years, Snowe has announced her retirement and cited the political climate as a reason for her pessimism. She sees blame all around and has not absolved her party from responsibility. But she says that if anything is to change, it will come only through presidential leadership.

“I would hope that he would recognize that he essentially has the capability and the capacity to get it done,” she said. “People expect that of a president. He should be able to use the power of his office to work with Congress in a way they could produce the results that are so desperately needed for the future of our country. . . . Somehow, it has not worked. Perhaps he does not appreciate the dimensions of his own office. I don’t know.”