Cohen: Say, who is this fellow in the White House, anyway?

Richard Cohen delivers one of the better analyses of why Obama finds himself falling in the polls and flailing as he approaches the midpoint of his term in office.  The truth is that no one really knows Obama, and his initial failures have eroded confidence in his abilities to lead the nation, a point Obama’s apologists obfuscate in a blizzard of Reagan references and polling comparisons.  However, as Bruce McQuain points out, Cohen comes to his conclusions by a process that should have taken place in 2007, when Democrats began rallying behind a candidate with no track record, no executive experience, and nothing but a narrative to recommend him for the highest executive office in the land:

The comparison to Reagan may give Obama cheer, but it is not really apt. For even in Reagan’s darkest days when, according to Gallup, six out of 10 Americans reported that they did not like the job he was doing, an astounding six in 10 nevertheless said they liked the man himself. He was, of course, phenomenally charming, authentic and schooled at countless soundstages in appearing that way. Just as important, the public had faith in the consistency of his principles, agree or not. This was the Reagan Paradox and it helped lift his presidency.

No one is accusing Obama of being likable. He is not unlikable, but he lacks Reagan’s (or Bill Clinton’s) warmth. What’s more, his career has been brief. He led no movement, was spokesman for no ideology and campaigned like a Nike sneaker — change instead of swoosh. He seems distant. No Irish jokes from him. For the average voter, he casts no shadow.

Reagan, by contrast, had been around forever. He was not defined solely by gauzy campaign ads but by countless speeches, two contentious and highly controversial terms as California governor, and a previous race for the presidency. There was never a question about who Reagan was and what he stood for. Not so Obama. About all he shares with Reagan at this point are low ratings.

What has come to be called the Obama Paradox is not a paradox at all. Voters lack faith inhim making the right economic decisions because, as far as they’re concerned, he hasn’t. He went for health-care reform, not jobs. He supported the public option, then he didn’t. He’s been cold to Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and then all over him like a cheap suit. Americans know Obama is smart. But we still don’t know him. Before Americans can give him credit for what he’s done, they have to know who he is. We’re waiting.

That’s precisely the problem — the media is waiting.  While they parachuted dozens of reporters to Wasilla in order to investigate a Vice-Presidential candidate in the general election, the media didn’t bother at all to trek to the much more accessible Chicago to get any sense of Barack Obama’s politics or connections to the corrupt Daley Machine.  It’s not as if the issue of corruption in Chicago was an arcane political topic, either, but the only mainstream media interested that topic were the newspapers in Chicago.

Nor did the media exactly fall all over themselves to look at Obama’s track record of leadership, or more accurately, the lack thereof.  Obama rarely if ever led on any legislative activity that had notable controversy.  Instead, he preferred to vote “present” on those issues, an option afforded by the Illinois legislature, and did so over 130 times during his seven years in the state Senate.  In one famous encounter, an Obama campaign surrogate couldn’t name a single legislative accomplishment of note for Obama during his time in either the state legislature or the US Senate that would provide a basis for voters to trust him with an executive position at the top of the American political system.  Yet the media acted as if Obama had credibility and refused to report anything that contradicted the notion.

However, there were some who continuously pointed out these shortcomings in a vain attempt to get the media to pay attention.  That’s why Cohen’s “we” gets Bruce, well, we-we’d up:

Who is “we” Mr. Cohen?  And where were you and your kind when the vetting process was supposed to take place.  Why are you still waiting for an introduction?  Why didn’t you do your job?

It’s not just Cohen who failed to do the job, but the entire American media that sold us the Obama bill of goods.

Addendum: Just to remind everyone, my friend John Ziegler produced an excellent documentary exposing all of this, How Obama Got Elected.