09/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The President of Cool


Some of Obama's most ardent supporters don't get who he is as a politician, so likely can't fathom the challenges his presidency now faces. Paul Krugman writes about "Obama's Trust Problem", which Glenn Greenwald takes even further, explaining where Pres. Obama now finds himself. The Washington Post-ABC poll reveals Obama's now suffering from a crisis of confidence from Independents, which Greg Sargent outlines also reveals he's starting to lose his base. Us. Nobody's happy about where summer's end is leading. Mike Madden reached back into the primaries to help people understand our President a bit better, but also some of the trouble he's having today. It begins with the reality that Barack Obama "never claimed he was a doctrinaire liberal."

The White House position, though, is vintage Obama: Lay out some broad principles, seek consensus, and try to float above the nitty-gritty details of the argument on the way there. Obama has never claimed he was a doctrinaire liberal; in fact, part of his message last year was that he'd get past the tired debates that paralyzed Washington in the name of finding common ground, even if that common ground -- as he described it -- mostly tended to involve Democratic policy ideas. His approach on health care has followed that model; he started the process off by enlisting the very industries the reform legislation will affect, in an attempt to get them into his consensus. - Obama's just not that into you

Madden's subheading, however cute, is also to the point: Liberals and the president struggle to find common ground on health care. But are they really meant for each other?

Maybe not, but we're certainly stuck with each other. And all of us want Pres. Obama to succeed.

George Stephanopoulos is the only interviewer to get at the root of Obama, a quote to which I refer whenever we're in situations like the current one on health care, with Pres. Obama in a war with the activists who believe manifesting Democratic policy changes is more important than anything else.

"I think that I have the capacity to get people to recognize themselves in each other. I think that I have the ability to make people get beyond some of the divisions that plague our society and to focus on common sense and reason and that's been in short supply over the last several years. I'm not an ideologue, never have been. Even during my younger days when I was tempted by, you know, sort of more radical or left wing politics, there was a part of me that always was a little bit conservative in that sense; that believes that you make progress by sitting down listening to people, recognizing everybody's concerns, seeing other people's points of views and then making decisions." - Barack Obama (on ABC's "This Week", May 2007)

Segue to Eugene Robinson, who reveals his political analysis is about as good as anyone blinded by Barack Obama's star power, gift of oratory, as well as his once in a lifetime candidacy, which never had anything to do with doctrinaire liberalism, something Robinson has never gotten. But at least in this recent column he awakens to Obama's problem of passion, his lack of "heat".

There's not enough passion on the Democratic side, not enough heat. There's some radiating from the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, too little emanating from the Democratic majority in the Senate, and not nearly enough coming from President Obama. Republicans, by contrast, have little going for them except passion -- but they're using it to impressive effect.

Barack Obama was never about heat, not ever. Maybe from his supporters to him, or from the sheer star power of his oratory and coolness, but on policy the man has always been soft on passion when it comes to pushing for the manifestation of liberal policy prescriptions.

Obama's cool pegs him over any other description, which has been a big part of his charm across the political divide. It's also why he's the ultimate Blue Dog, The Blue Dog in fact, which for me has never been just about conservatism, but more about cool; the coolness of any passion towards liberal ideas and the ideology we are supposed to manifest because it represents what's in the long-term best interests of the country, as well as the American people.

But Obama isn't an ideologue, by his own admission.

It's also why candidate Obama, even as he invoked Reagan, now has revealed he never got Ronnie. Reagan was sunny, optimistic, but he was also a hard core ideologue. Yes, he compromised when he had to, did what he must, had cocktails with Tip O'Neill after hours, but Reagan never forgot what he was there for, the purpose of his presidency, which was to enact conservative principles through policy, something we're paying for right now. Obama just saw the character actor, missing the passionate conservative message of the man, which was never in doubt.

That's just not Obama's style. And it never has been his purpose. Go back to the quote with Stephanopoulos. Obama's the President of Cool, the anti-ideologue, at a time when what we really need is a person with passion about the solutions this country needs and isn't shy about using the Democratic majority we've got to implement change, especially on health care, that will mean something to everyone and last. Not simply become a weapon Republicans will use to run against us in upcoming elections.

But now that the summer is gone and Obama and the Democrats in Congress haven't gotten anything concrete done on health care, with a push well into the fall seeming more certain by the day, it's not going to get easier. Because with the news of a $9 trillion deficit, the Republicans are already preparing their trumpet to blast this out until we're all deaf, which is sure to make the Blue Dogs worry they'll be the next thing on the endangered species list as they look toward 2012, making it more likely than ever that they'll be digging their heals in on health care even further.

- Taylor Marsh, with podcasts available on ITunes.