Ambinder vs Harris

I can't recommend highly enough Ambers' careful take-down of John Harris's offering of seven different anti-Obama memes. I don't find any of them particularly persuasive, although obviously there are vulnerabilities.

What strikes me about the attacks is how scattershot they are. The right wants to argue both that Obama is a mean-ass Chicago pol and a push-over. They want to argue both that he's a socialist control freak and that the real power in Washington is Nancy Pelosi. They want to attack him as weak abroad and yet they support his Afghan surge and his attempt to rally the world to place sanctions on Iran. The inconsistencies are legion, because, I suspect, Obama's enemies have yet to get a single, compelling narrative that rings true. They didn't manage it in the campaign and they have not managed it since. He's too big and interesting a figure to be caricatured that way. The cartoonists and the comics have the same problem. He eludes them, as complicated adults often do.

Maybe an event or the passage of time will yield a more fruitful line of criticism. But so far? Not so much. Yes, he's damaged, because the environment has to be one of the toughest any new president has faced in a generation. But he has not been truly hurt. Unemployment is climbing, America, post-Bush, has very little leverage in the world, health reform is mind-numbing and worrying, the debt is soaring ... all this explains Mr HopenChange coming down to earth. But none of it really pivots off a line of Rovian attack, and none of it coheres around a single persuasive narrative.

If I were to isolate one weakness, I'd say that Obama's inability to relate emotionally to his supporters since being elected is the most obvious.

I expected a moderate non-ideological pragmatism but I didn't quite expect Obama to have lost his touch with the base as completely as he has. Among the young, he is no longer an icon of change but a symbol of the resilience of the Washington system. The simple moral case for universal health insurance, for example, has been absent for months, and yet it remains the strongest core argument for reform. His sober support for Geithner and Summers and the lack of real fire in his belly in holding Wall Street accountable for its gleeful rape of the global economy is not exactly the kind of change most hoped for. I see no one fired up among his earliest supporters, and the coolness of his affect amid the heat of his opposition has weakened him politically.

This is understandable given the core platform he ran on - a return to pragmatic realism at home and abroad. And it is reparable largely because of the insanity of the current right, and the potential accumulation of real achievements - on healthcare, the recession, torture, federalism. But it is a vulnerability. There is a real sense among those who actually did the work in electing him that they are the least of his interests and priorities in office.

I'm fine with it. I know politics is a cruel long game and I also appreciate the strategy he is persistently pursuing. It is a huge relief to see a president more intent on getting things right than on winning news cycles. But he needs to re-connect with his supporters, to remind them again of why they voted for him and did so much for him.

His remoteness from his early insurgency is inevitable. But it is also risky.