Obama's Poor Boston Performance

By Justin Miller

The fate of health care reform and the Democratic agenda in Congress depends on the success of getting Martha Coakley elected as the next senator from Massachusetts. Yet Barack Obama acted as if she were running for state senate. Just when he needs to wake up Democrats who've mostly slumbered for 50 years putting Ted Kennedy back in office, Obama just kinda... wimped out.

The president could have ripped Republicans for getting America into trouble and refusing to help fix it. This is, you know, what parties do in election years: fight against each other. Instead, Democrats got a recitation of Coakley's resume and biography, with a few deeply-intoned calls about the need for change. The Boston performance had a veneer of inspiration, but it didn't seem particularly stirring. Obama was drained of the hot blood that animated him hours earlier while speaking to a church in Washington, D.C. where the audience was rapt.

The Boston audience didn't pay attention to Obama when a heckler harangued him. The president stopped speaking, looked at the heckler, tried repeatedly to return to script, then awkwardly said "We're OK" as the audience looked at the heckler. Obama seemed as feckless to control the crowd as a substitute teacher can be to a class. You can dismiss this as a silly episode, but it shows clearly the president doesn't like to fight and is not spontaneous.

It may have been the tough week -- the disaster in Haiti and endless negotiations on health care. But it is also true that Obama just doesn't enjoy fighting. If Coakley loses, Obama will have to get much tougher on the GOP than he was with that heckler. Otherwise, Coakley will be far, far from the last Democrat to lose this year.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/01/obamas-poor-boston-performance/33677/