Obama playing by the numbers

Despite his successful re-election, Barack Obama has never again reached the heights of affection and popularity enjoyed after his winning the presidency in 2008. Although he has been praised for his deliberate, careful style, it is not one that has been memorable. Even his oratorical skill, powerful in the moment, has not produced a memorable phrase. No “one third of a nation ill-housed and ill-fed” that came from Franklin Roosevelt’s lips in 1936 or John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country has done for you, ask what you can do for your country” has been matched by Obama. Like Bill Clinton, he has the gift of connecting with voters, without particularly convincing or inspiring them.

Certainly Obama’s supporters rightly point to the recalcitrant Congress he has faced since 2011 as frustrating his vision. Yet, he has been unable to go over their heads in a convincing way. Obama cannot summon enough emotion to galvanize those who believe that he is right. He is mechanically trying to move the runner with bunts, rather than home runs.

He can gain votes, but he is unable to move a nation. And although his use of the bully pulpit has moved opinion polls, it has not intimidated the GOP. When someone tells him to take them to supper, he does. Dutiful, lawyer-like with albeit some style, he plays to avoid disaster.

Fortunately, he has made his opponents his best allies in that they keep his base secured. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell would have to be invented if he did not have them already. Predictably, they have stepped on their message, from Benghazi to the AP story. Having a reputation for criticizing Obama even if he delivered the Lord’s Prayer, they are simply not credible. Inept at everything but obstruction, they have managed to make the GOP almost a double incumbency. Even if the economy goes bad, they get some of the blame.

Renee Priebus, who led the Republican Party to defeat in 2012, continues to do the only thing he knows – savaging Obama. Instead of patience, they have acted as if they wanted to overthrow him from Jan. 20, 2009, forward. McConnell’s understandable but stupid public quip that “defeating Obama” was the Republican Party’s No. 1 priority seemed irresponsible. Really, Obama should remember all of them on his Christmas list, for they are indispensable.

To his credit, Newt Gingrich warned them, first with Clinton and then Obama, to go easy, only to lose the speakership and then the nomination. Subtlety is not treasured.

But Obama needs to go all in, ignoring the percentages that say he needs to have a legacy act, like the immigration bill. Perhaps he needs to draw on his community organizing skills and hit a nerve, or even attempt to draw political blood. But to play the numbers borders on lacking passion.

What indeed does he believe?