The affection that Barack Obama’s supporters feel for him has always been based more on what he is rather than who he is. The first African-American president. The constitutional scholar. The man who dedicated his early career to organizing society’s underdogs for their collective empowerment.
Barack Obama the man is not as easy to love as Barack Obama the symbol. It’s often said he’s too cool, too above it all. This sounds trivial, but being that guy you would like to have a beer with is essential to effective leadership and political durability in modern-day America. George W. Bush had it, but unfortunately he was a screw-up. Bill Clinton had it in spades, but that lovability and desire to be loved (absent the leavening of good judgment) is what got an otherwise supremely gifted politician into so much trouble.
Now that the Obama administration has hit rough waters, the sharks on all sides are circling. Had he not felt that the gritty, relationship-building, back-slapping, schmoozing and stroking side of politics was beneath him, the relationships he might have built over the past five years would have stood him in good stead now, when he needed personal allies.
The so-called “lame-stream media” are deeply offended that the Obama justice department pulled a Big Brother on the AP by snagging its phone records without warning. Actually, this is an act of monumental political tone-deafness that offends all Americans, regardless of whether it was justified by the underlying imperatives. It could have been handled much more adroitly, and it leaves the news outlets with a sour taste in their mouths at a very bad time for the administration. When you mess with source records, you threaten reporters’ livelihoods.
The other stuff—Benghazi and the IRS scrutiny business—will play itself out, but it will endure as long as it can be shown to damage the president.
Obama likes to think of Abraham Lincoln as his inspiration. At lonely times like these, maybe he wishes he’d looked more to LBJ to understand the importance of developing personal bonds.