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Still wondering who President Obama is

Something's not right. Back on Oct. 6, I marveled at four opinion pieces on President Obama's character that essentially asked, "Who is this guy?" Four months later -- one year into his presidency and on the eve of his first State of the Union address -- the question is still being asked. Both Gene Robinson and Bob Herbert today make this nettlesome inquiry in their columns today.

Robinson wants the president to resist the calls for him to don the cloak of populism while addressing the mounting national anger. "What's important is that he speak in a clear voice, a definitive voice," he writes. "When he draws a line in the sand -- about health care, jobs, energy, whatever -- he should do everything in his power to defend that line, even if it means bruised feelings and ruffled feathers."

But that's part of the problem. On health care, jobs, energy, whatever, Obama has been consistent in his push to address these issues. Yet he has been irritatingly inconsistent on the details of those policies. That line in the sand seems to move every time the tide changes. And that's why the last lines of Herbert's critical column today resonates. "Americans want to know what he stands for, where his line in the sand is, what he’ll really fight for, and where he wants to lead this nation," he writes. "They want to know who their president really is."

That the American people don't feel they have the answer to that question is driving the president's poll numbers down and feeding the smoldering panic in the Democratic Party. If Obama doesn't want it to become an inferno as we head to the November midterm elections, he's got to show the American people who he is.

By Jonathan Capehart  | January 26, 2010; 8:10 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Notice that it is Obama supporters who are asking "who the President really is"?

More and more voters, in both red & blue states, have already decided that the Barack Obama of the 2008 campaign was an utter phony. To counteract that image, President Obama would have to go against all of his instincts, actually take charge, and look for what actually works to help economic growth.

It's a bridge way too far for someone who has lived an academic life of empty words and little responsibility.

Posted by: pilsener | January 26, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

What is most distressing is that his most ardent media supporters are asking this question now.

We know one thing, he is not George Bush. OK, fine. But that is all that seemed to matter back then.

We count on the Fourth Estate to answer these questions long before we go to the polls. At least we used to.

The President is a great campaigner, but no consideration was given to his experience.

20/20 hindsight is a beautiful thing. Let's hope we can learn from this going forward.

Posted by: kenskorupski | January 26, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if there is "smoldering panic" in the democratic party. I know that many of us who supported Obama are baffled about the direction he is going and has gone. It's not what we expected. But, we are not in denial, as many Bush supporters were when Bush took the country in directions no one ever dreamed and allowed Cheney to overpower him. If we made a bad mistake, we will regroup and support someone else in 2012. Some of us might try a decent moderate republican if there is such a choice. That's the long and short of it.

Posted by: Grandblvd03 | January 26, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Grandblvd03, but from what I read every day in the press, many to the more progressive/liberal end of the spectrum must be in denial. So far, Obama has stood for nothing but Obama. He was for a strong public option before and after he was not wed to it. He was against a spending freeze before he was for it. He has compromised on everything and stood for nothing. As much as I detested the Clintons, I continue to be amazed that the Dems picked Obama over anyone else in the party. And yes, it was definitely a black thing.

Posted by: mgochs | January 26, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Bush destroyed America for nearly 8 years without a peep of criticism from the right. Only in the last year or so have we read all the tell-tale books. As we try to pick up the pieces of his wreckage, now all on Obama, I repeat that Obama has not handled it the way many of us had hoped. But, as you can see from this criticism, as well as criticism from liberal columnists like Gene Robinson, Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman and countless others, we are not in lockstep and denial. We are pissed. What Obama's race has to do with what I just said baffles me. I would be equal disappointed in a man who faked left and veered to the right even if he had purple skin.

Posted by: Grandblvd03 | January 26, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Hello, many of us out there realized exactly who he was in 2008, and found him wanting. While he may have strong core beliefs, he has absolutely no record of swaying public opinion (other than to vote for him), influencing significant legislation, or demonstrating leadership on challenging issues. As one of his constituents, he did nothing with the Senate term given to him by the people of Illinois other than obstruct judicial appointments, travel to Kenya, and promote himself as a presidential candidate. We now see these shortcomings borne out - delegating the stimulus and health care bills to Congress, straining relations with longtime American allies, failing to standup for people rallying for freedom in Iran. Obama has yet to prove that he can accomplish anything other than getting himself elected. Thank you, media, for getting so caught up with the novelty of the campaign and the Clinton horserace that his true colors weren't exposed until it was too late.

Posted by: Illini | January 26, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

We know that Obama is a narcissist and a Marxist and intends on completely destroying our country.

He doesn't have a clue about the People and their everyday worries. He knows nothing of the free market system. He doesn't have to think because he's got Soros and Podesta making up the rules and writing bills to enslave us.

From what I've seen he's an empty suit with a fair salute, even though he practiced it for days.

He's an actor but can't remember his lines and always need a teleprompter. Hollywood couldn't use him

The rest of who he is, quite frankly, is irrelevant because he won't need to do anything else.

Posted by: aaniko | January 26, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

It is becoming clearer who Obama is and the more we know the less we like. He has failed to deliver and he has blown his first year to the point of being damaged.
I'm now voting independent and the Dems have pushed me over to the other side with their partisan health care push. Who would have thought that Obama hurts the Dems more than anyone else ever. No more wasted votes for change - you can keep the change.

Posted by: Independent23 | January 26, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Jonathan, I am wondering too about the real Obama.

On the front page of the WP there's a link showing which campaign promises Obama had kept. I really disagree with the WP's analysis on that chart, as to me the devil is in the details -- ie, the substance of the actual laws.

It's not enough to pass just any old bill that seems like it might satisfy a promise on the surface. The actual substance of the law counts too.

Health care is a perfect example of the kind of thing I would not consider a campaign promise kept even if it ever passed. He promised more choices, no new taxes on the middle class, and to crack down on insurers and drug companies. The final bill is almost the polar opposite. The crack down on insurers and drug companies is totally toothless and doesn't kick in immediately, there are no more real choices for affordable insurance, but there is a mandate we buy insurance(which is a tax in my book, no matter how people like to spin it). So if it passes, it will "count" as a success, but I will consider it an abject failure and a broken promise.

Same with the Wall Street crackdown. So far, I've seen no actual evidence of a real and effective crackdown on Wall Street and the big banks, although they claim to have passed bills and have others in progress. Let's see the bill in action. Let's see a real crackdown, not just speeches. Enough speeches, more action.

Obama needs to stick exactly to his campaign promises, not just pass any old bill on the same topic. And when people in Congress won't fall in line, he needs to learn some LBJ-style arm twisting tactics. There are plenty of ways to apply pressure to those throwing up obstacles, both publicly and privately.

In my book, it's not so much about who Obama is, but whether he really has the courage of his convictions in the face of both Democratic and Republican opposition in Congress.

He seems to just cave into Congress anytime the going gets slightly tough, which has produced laws that have very little resemblance to what he promised in the campaign. And that counts as broken promises from my perspective.

Posted by: marihelen1 | January 26, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

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