Clinton was routinely criticized as unpresidential and inefficient on precisely these grounds. See again the point re: presidential strategy/style as that an all-purpose topic of criticism.

Does he recharge by heading back to the campaign trail, rolling up his sleeves and wading into the crowd? Obama will do that if he has to, to save his health-care bill. But he can’t persuade us he gets much of a kick out of it.

Wait… hasn’t Charles Krauthammer, one of the stars of the Post op-ed page, been telling us for two years that Obama is a great big narcissist who lives off the adulation of cult-like crowds?

And here’s what makes this so complicated: The fact that Obama doesn’t get a kick out of adoring throngs is one of the qualities that made him so appealing in the first place. Unlike with Clinton, we never felt as though he needed us; he’s a secure, self-confident adult.

As you are about to admit, that’s a good thing.

That’s a good thing. Yes, Obama would rather have dinner with his wife than with, say, John Boehner. Wouldn’t you? (With your own spouse, I mean; you don’t get to choose dinner with Michelle.) I’m glad to have a president for whom family values isn’t just a slogan — and a president who cares about policy.

This is a strange way of showing it.

We understand that, even without war and recession, it wouldn’t be easy. His predecessor partied and stuck him with the tab. The Republicans are reliably obstructionist; his Democrats reliably unreliable. The media are carping, superficial and relentless. He is a prisoner of the Secret Service.

“The media are carping, superficial and relentless.” But not self-aware.

And yet. It’s hard to remember so far back, but the administration didn’t come to town with the sense of weariness and duty that it now projects. Unlike the Bush crowd, which never stopped kvetching about having to leave Texas, the Obamas and their circle spoke about the honor of service and the excitement of being in the nation’s capital


A year later, here’s how they came across to People Magazine:


“It was their first interview of the New Year on Jan. 8 in the rose-colored library on the ground floor of the White House. President Obama spoke in such a hush about the loneliness of his decisions on war and terrorism that one could hear between his words the tick of an old lighthouse clock across the room.”

Does this make anyone else think of Edgar Allen Poe?

Do Americans really want to hear the tick of the old lighthouse clock? Or would they prefer the good cheer that we associate with FDR or JFK, the jauntiness with which they took over the White House and made it theirs?

They might also prefer jobs. JFK and his stunningly telegenic family cut a jaunty profile, but a booming economy didn’t hurt his reputation. FDR had that whole Depression thing to deal with, but he did his damnedest to put people to work.

Less lugubriousness wouldn’t necessarily buy him a health-care bill. But in the long run, Americans might find it easier to root for or with Obama if he’d show us, despite everything, that he’s happy we hired him.

They might. But I’m guessing he’d settle for the health-care bill right about now.

The piece reminds me of something smart Ta-Nehisi Coates said about column-writing last August, in the wake of Niall Ferguson comparing Obama to Felix the Cat (they were both “not only black,” but also “very, very lucky”):

Once you become a brand, you feel the need to feed the beast. But the beast isn’t natural. You don’t have something important to say each and every week. And you certainly don’t have something important to say each week, at 800-1000 words. Yet the demand is still there.

Actually, Hiatt’s column was only 730 words, and he only writes biweekly. But the point holds.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.