By Lenny McAllister
Some of the glimpses of President Barack Obama in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine article reveal a myriad of emotions and regret for acts of both commission and omission so far during his presidential term.
For Democrats — especially those currently running away from Obama in their desperate fight for congressional and statewide office — the signs of professional remorse from the president, and his admission of his failure to keep supporters inspired, may well justify their current campaign-trail tactics. Of course, those sprinting away from the president this fall could reverse direction in roughly 18 months, once the 2012 presidential run starts and brings the potential unfurling of the Obama coattails.
For Republicans — notably those who hoped that Obamacare would be the "Waterloo" that killed the public's support for Obama — the article suggests that Waterloo did not come in 2009 and early 2010 as they had hoped. The poor economy and the hyper-partisan nature of the nation may have done more than the health care debacle to cool the enthusiasm for the president and his party that voters (particularly young and minority voters) had just a short time ago.
There is one point from the president's reflections that should concern both Republicans and Democrats: an admission of political naiveté regarding Washington politics and his belief that his presence alone could maintain the enthusiasm. Can politics remain inspirational in a manner that prompts Americans to do better as citizens, as contributors to the political dialogue and as community builders?
The most startling aspect of the article is hearing officials and supporters of the president privately concede that the best days of the Obama administration may be in the past. Although extremists on both sides will take pleasure in that sentiment, Americans should rue the day that a president's close supporters believe an administration's best days are over, particularly with more than 700 days left in the Oval Office.
Disillusionment on the campaign trail is one thing. Being described as "shellshocked" is another, especially when the adjective comes from a supportive ally in the media. The evaporation of inspiration from Obama is apparent, from the One Nation rally a few weeks ago to his recent televised youth town hall — all efforts to rally the Democratic base and the youth vote for the midterm elections, and reignite the energy that in fact was lost even before the newly elected president had finished his inaugural speech in January 2009.
Conservative grass-roots activism was 30 years behind the Democrats in most ways, from its use of technology to its presence in the media as a substantive voting bloc. An energized Obama gives Republicans a worthy opponent — and their best opportunity to contrast their proposals with the liberal left's offerings, a situation that allows for sound political discourse.
Without that same level of energy, American politics will continue down the path of self-preservation that many Democrats (and most incumbents) have traveled since 2008, complete with the party flopping (see Sen. Arlen Specter), mean-spiritedness (such as the Jerry Brown camp's use of the word "whore" toward Meg Whitman), media fixating (Christine O'Donnell's "witch-gate") and extreme rhetoric (Sharron Angle's "Second Amendment remedies") that we are constantly fed instead of a tangible battle of ideas that, in the end, yields solutions.
As the president and his team reflect on the past two years, it is clear that we need Obama to regain the energy level from his campaign to inspire the nation. Otherwise, it may be more difficult to create the sharp contrast of policy proposals for the future that can enable both parties to get past status quo politics to true leadership.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. He is the author of an upcoming edition of the book The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative), due out in the fall. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.