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Crucible of Change


President Obama wanted to change Washington. It changed … for the worse. And it’s now holding his agenda hostage. The question is: How much is he willing to change himself in order to save it?

On Feb. 9, 2009, at the first prime-time press conference of his presidency, Obama said: “I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to — to civility and rational argument.”

Since then, the right has tried to block him at nearly every turn, and the far right has formed a movement fueled by irrational anger.

Over the same period, his job approval ratings have dropped to new lows for him, and according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Thursday, the gap between those who trust him and the Democrats to handle major issues versus those who trust Republicans to do so has narrowed to nearly nothing.

And perhaps most worrisome, according to a January report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Obama’s image among the all-important independents as a “strong leader” and a president “able to get things done” took the biggest slides of all his character traits measured.

Yet, there he was again [the week ending 2/13], a year to the day after the prime-time press conference, saying almost exactly the same thing: “I am just an eternal optimist. … And all I can do is just to keep on making the argument about what’s right for the country and assume that over time, people, regardless of party, regardless of their particular political positions, are going to gravitate towards the truth.” So stubbornly sweet. So simply naïve.

If Obama is still clinging to this quaint concept after the year he’s had, it’s easy to understand why he’s in trouble.

Still, it’s not too late for him to change. In fact, this is his moment. He’s already showing some signs of change, but his changes have to be even more dramatic.

My advice: Worry less about making arguments and more about making connections. Simplify the message: “Getting America back to work.” Shake up the staffing of the West Wing to signal a fresh start. And keep showing those newly resurrected flashes of fight as a reminder that your patrician tenets are not at odds with bare-knuckled partisan politics.

At a dinner in New York City two weeks before his election, Obama joked that he was not the messiah but Superman. “Contrary to the rumors you’ve heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton. …”

Well, our mild-mannered president is in desperate need of a telephone booth. He needs to summon his inner Superman who knows how to pair optimism with force when responding to a crisis, a Man of Steel who’s more than a silver tongue with a tin ear.

Once again the bullet is proud to present New York Times Columnist & nationally known commentator Charles M. Blow with several hundred words of blistering political commentary: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.”

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1 Comment on "Crucible of Change"

  1. I agree…I'm a little anxious to know what (health care,economy,job status, gas prices,etc.)is going to look like in 3 years. Once again Mr. Blow I've enjoyed reading your column.

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