THE BLOG
10/15/2010 03:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Big O's Mojo Has Been Here All Along

Will the president have to sprout wings?

For the past six months or so, there has been a peculiar narrative developing about the Nov. 2 congressional elections: Democrats are going to lose the House and Senate, and it's all Barack Obama's fault.

The president has failed to live up to his own hype, the story goes, and disillusioned voters -- particularly the youth and African American blocks that helped sweep him into office -- have lost interest or given up on the whole change thing, at least when it comes to voting.

"Where has the president's mojo gone?" many Democratic strategists are asking. Why isn't Obama's team as excited about the midterm elections as the Tea Party is?

This so-called "enthusiasm gap" -- a nod to Dr. Strangelove, I hope -- has inspired many Democratic candidates to distance themselves from the president. The logic is that unpopularity is contagious and that faux populist rage is in vogue. (From an incumbent Democrat's television ad: "People in this district are mad, and I'm mad, too!")

This is what a varsity coach might call a "tactical error" for the Democratic Party. Obama may be in a slump, but he is still the star player on a team that otherwise lacks depth and luster.

Check the stats: Obama has managed to keep his approval rating hovering around 45 percent in spite of everything he is up against. Congress' approval rating? Around 16 percent.

Obama may not walk on water, but he's still probably the most popular politician in the country.

So it's no great surprise that fundraising has picked up, the "enthusiasm gap" has narrowed and poll numbers have begun to improve for Democrats after the President began to campaign on behalf of his lackluster party.

That's not to say that Obama himself hasn't lost a certain glow since 2008. I have been highly critical of Obama in my own columns, despairing of his lethargy regarding gay rights, his ratcheting up of the war in Afghanistan and his fruitless campaign for bipartisan consensus.

These are genuine grievances. But they don't even begin to tell the whole story of Obama's first two years in the White House.

Obama may not have ended Don't Ask Don't Tell, but it's on his agenda. And he did, to his supreme credit, sign legislation last year making gay-bashing a hate crime -- a bill that George W. Bush threatened to veto.

Obama may be escalating the Afghan conflict, but he has ended the combat mission in Iraq as promised. And he is unambiguous about wanting to pull out as soon as an exit strategy is devised -- easing concerns about a possible Second Vietnam situation.

And Obama may have watered down some of his initiatives -- most notably health care reform -- without a shred of bipartisanship to show for it. But he managed to produce a body of work that many observers considered as impossible as his election.

Yet, somehow, it has become common wisdom that Obama was sent to the White House to change America, and that he failed to do it.

That's nonsense.

An analogy: It is tempting to explain away Hamlet's peculiarity as the product of his so-called tragic flaw -- an "inability to act" -- until you finally get around to reading the damn thing and discover that Hamlet has no such defect. On the contrary, he is actually busy doing stuff the entire time.

Similarly, the narrative of Obama short-changing change is compelling only until you consider the facts.

A selection of the President's accomplishments thus far: Obama lowered federal income taxes for the middle class to its lowest rate in 60 years; he ended tax benefits for companies that outsource jobs; he trimmed billions in bloated military spending; he closed illegal detention facilities and restored America's adherence to the Geneva conventions; he improved lending practices for small businesses and students; he gave public schools access to high-speed broadband Internet; he restarted nuclear nonproliferation talks; he established a new era of diplomacy and global optimism. The list goes on.

And Obama did it all as Republican obstructionism knew no bounds --Time magazine's Mark Halperin noted on Monday that Republican obstructionism even blocked "proposals based on policies supported by the G.O.P. in the past."

If the Republicans had something meaningful to offer beyond House Minority Leader John Boehner's "Hell no you can't!" answer to Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign, that stance might be excusable.

But they don't. If they did, it likely would have appeared in "A Pledge to America" -- their new substance-free manifesto.

The SparkNotes version of the pledge: Extend tax cuts to the richest 3 percent of Americans because, in some dubious way, that will enable America to resolve all of its economic woes.

It's no wonder Obama has opted to return to campaign mode on behalf of his party.

"Even though [the midterm elections] may not be as exciting as a presidential election," Obama told a group of college journalists last month, "it's going to make a huge difference in terms of whether we're going to be able to move our agenda forward over the next couple of years."

And, despite what the media keeps telling us, the fix is definitely not in. The predicted Republican wins are directly related to polls predicting voter apathy among Obama's young supporters.

This is something you can control. You don't have to coordinate marches, canvas neighborhoods or plan fundraisers. All you have to do is show up and vote.

And let's be clear: This election is not about choosing the lesser of two evils. If it were, apathy might be defensible. Instead, it is a choice between exceptional, albeit flawed, leadership and the political equivalent of the self-destruct button.

But if Americans cannot get excited about Obama's successes, they can always do the next-best thing: go out on Nov. 2 and give the Republicans two enthusiastic thumbs down.