Somewhere in Richard Cohen’s column for today’s Washington Post shines a little light of belated understanding. Cohen tries to hide it behind a broadside against the GOP, writing — and obviously hoping — that Barack Obama’s eventual 2012 challenger will be “stuck in the amber” of extremism from the primaries and will end up rescuing Obama from himself. That doesn’t change Cohen’s conclusion about Obama as an overrated narcissist, even if Cohen can’t quite make the diagnosis explicit:
Obama, in contrast, was raised in the great American muddle, not rich and not poor. Yet when the stock market fell more than 500 points last week and the image that night was of the president whooping it up at his birthday party, the juxtaposition — just bad timing, of course — seemed appropriate. He does not seem to care.
This quality of Obama’s, this inability to communicate what many of us think he must be feeling, has lately cost many trees their dear lives — reams of essays and op-ed pieces. One of the more interesting ones, by Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory University, ran in Sunday’s New York Times. It cited Obama’s frequent inability or unwillingness to explain himself or to appear empathetic. All this is true. But Westen’s most salient point was contained in the title: “What Happened to Obama?” The answer: Nothing.
And if Obama is overrated and not particularly concerned about anyone else but himself, who overrated him? On that score, Cohen is significantly more honest:
Obama has always been the man he is today. He is the very personification of cognitive dissonance — the gap between what we (especially liberals) expected of the first serious African American presidential candidate and the man he in fact is. He has next to none of the rhetorical qualities of the old-time black politicians. He would eschew the cliche, but he feels little of their pain. In this sense, he has been patronized by liberals who looked at a man and saw black and has been reviled by those who looked at a black man and saw “other.”
That’s precisely what most of us on the Right said about the odd love affair with a one-term backbencher with no executive or business experience in the 2008 presidential race. Cohen and other liberals in the media saw a black man running for President and filled in their own narrative, as Cohen admits here. Those of us who challenged that narrative with the facts about Obama’s record (and lack thereof) were dismissed and often slimed as racists, a narrative that continues to this day.
In fact, Cohen goes on to honestly state that the media is still giving Obama a pass:
Westen faults Obama for his lack of storytelling abilities. But this is because Obama is himself the story. Consider for a moment that Obama’s account of how he had to fight to get medical coverage for his dying mother is not exactly true. The White House’s response to this revelation was grudging silence. It did not dispute the story and it soon died. This was because the Obama story is not what he says but who he is. That remains unchanged, and so the very people who would pummel a Republican for such a mischaracterization were silent about Obama’s. Obama did not deign to reply. He does not have to.
Even Cohen can’t quite get away from his substance-free crush, though:
Obama is the very soul of common sense. As he talks, I nod my head in agreement.
Really? I guess it’s easy to be “the very soul of common sense” when muttering generalities and platitudes. Presidents, however, are generally expected to lead with plans and specifics. Cohen may have written this column prior to yesterday’s speech, so it could be unfair to ask him what in that ten minutes amounted to useful common sense, but the same thing could be said for every other public statement given by Obama over the last few weeks — months, really — about spending and debt.
Still, give Cohen one cheer for recognizing that the media sold a myth, not the man, and that they’re still engaged in mythmaking — or perhaps more precisely at this point, myth maintenance. Regardless of the reason why they built the myth in the first place, they seem more motivated in protecting Obamas’ reputation in order to protect their own now.