Voters Cool on Barack Obama

The president's distant attitude does nothing to quell fears about the economy and unemployment.

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President Barack Obama.

Fresh from the June bubble of college reunion conversations, it's finally clear to me why President Obama is ebbing and flowing, not sitting pretty in the polls or in the White House as he runs for re-election.

It's not what Obama does that hurts his place in people's hearts and minds. It's what he doesn't do, what he doesn't say. It's an absence that feels sometimes as if he's on the other side of an emotional abyss. The economic stimulus package was a necessary remedy, but it was too small, for starters: hesitant, not bold.

A majority of Americans like Obama, polls show. They like him the way you like a pleasant neighbor. But they don't love the guy, nor do they have his back. They don't feel they even understand the elegant, remote man in the most transparent profession, politics.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

It's the same story in the Senate, a place where Obama left barely a trace. He was on book tour for much of the time. The clubby Senate likes its newcomers to honor their elders. Obama made a few friends: Sens. Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle. They were nice friends that helped him get elected. But many of the 100 felt that he was never one of them. When Obama dumped the old Washington pro Daschle from his cabinet line-up on a tax matter early on, keeping Timothy Geithner instead as Treasury secretary, that did not do wonders for his street cred. Everyone respects Daschle; Geithner leaves people cold.

Obama never could coax one Senate Republican to stand with him on healthcare, and he spent too much time. I think he was mystified when his clever charm went nowhere in the Capitol, with either House Speaker John Boehner or his former Senate colleagues. It had worked so well, taken him so far in 2008.

Charm is one thing; clout is another. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

As for Columbia College from 1981 to 1983, nobody I know who went there knew him. Nobody knew him in my circle of friends of friends. He left nary a trace there, too.

African-Americans are not thrilled with Obama, feeling a bit forgotten by the once eloquent campaigner, according to an op-ed in the Washington Post by a Columbia University expert, Fredrick Harris.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Beautiful words and a beaming smile just don't go down deep enough for a nation of hurt. Empathy and urgency are what the president needs to project right now. His cool pose fails to address the anxieties of the unemployed. Young people, who supported him so energetically four years ago, feel especially ignored.

Obama's cool. But he can be cold in a hot medium. That's why the country is cooling on him.

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