What do these folks hear from the White House and the rest of Washington? Whining, mostly. Obama and his GOP rivals can't seem to tell the story of America without casting themselves as the protagonists.
"They don't do anything except block me and call me names," Obama said in Minneapolis after House Speaker John Boehner threatened a lawsuit over the president's use of executive authority.
"They've decided to sue me for doing my job," Obama groused. The president also has said, "Middle-class families can't wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So sue me. As long as they're doing nothing, I'm not going to apologize for trying to do something."
Obama would argue that he's fighting for Americans and is blocked by a stubbornly conservative House. It's a point worthy of debate, but it's argued poorly, because Obama leans on three words that should be virtually banned from the vocabulary of any leader: I, me, and my.
The day after that speech, a Tawas City, Mich., plumber told me he was a lifelong Democrat who had voted twice for Obama but had grown disenchanted. He pointed to a local newspaper headline about the Minnesota address and said, "It's not about you, Mr. President."
Obama's message also dismisses the enormous number of voters — on some issues, a majority — who don't habitually agree with him, and who will never be won over by condescension.
Boehner has been more careful with his rhetoric, casting his pending lawsuit as a writ for America. "The president has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action," he said in a July 7 op-ed.
But the suit is clearly personal. Boehner and the Republicans he nominally leads have no interest in cooperating with Obama. The House speaker essentially announced last week that he was finished dealing with the president. "This is a problem of the president's own making," a visibly angry Boehner said of the border crisis. "He's been president for five and a half years! When is he going to take responsibility for something?"
Obama responded with finger-pointing and a blast of first-person pronouns. "So when folks say they're frustrated with Congress, let's be clear about what the problem is. I'm just telling the truth now. I don't have to run for office again." He added, "The best thing you can say about this Congress — the Republicans in Congress, and particularly the House of Representatives — the best you can say for them this year is that so far they have not shut down the government."
Even Democrats are starting to tire of their president sounding less like a leader than a kindergartener — whiny ("They don't do anything except block me and call me names"); petulant ("So sue me"); and self-absorbed ("I ... me "¦ my").
"The bear is on the loose!" Obama says whenever he shows up at a coffee shop, diner, or bar to mingle with voters. These events are carefully managed so as to not look carefully managed — a gimmick in any president's bag of tricks. But with Obama, the photo opportunities ring false.