Opinion writer July 9, 2012

It was a Romney weekend in the Hamptons. He went to three fundraisers, reportedly hauling in more than $3 million from the terrified rich who, living in their various versions of a seaside Versailles, fear the socialist inclined mobs and their fiery and supposedly radical leader, Barack Obama. Heads, or at least hedge funds, will roll.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post. View Archive

I wrote last year that Obama had lost the Hamptons. Nothing has changed. He is roundly denounced for not doing a Heimlich on the economy, for his allegedly socialist ways, for Obamacare, for low employment, for high unemployment, for not returning phone calls, for not asking advice — for being cold, distant and, increasingly, just for being president of the United States. The man, it seems, has to go.

I share some of these sentiments. The economy remains in the doldrums, the occasional good month followed by two or three bad ones. Obama is something of a cold fish, which may be something he cannot help, but he is also a lazy politician, unwilling — not unable — to do the telephoning and backslapping that his job requires.

As for Obamacare, it is both a legal and programmatic mess not because it is even modestly socialist but because it is not socialistenough. A government-run health-care system such as the ones used in virtually all the industrialized world — the so-called single-payer system — would have been the way to go. Instead, we have a system in which private insurance companies will abuse doctors and patients alike in the cause of profit. This, alas, truly is the American Way.

There is something about Obama — something ineffable — that obscures who he really is. This was apparent in the last presidential campaign where radicals and moderates embraced him as one of their own. The silly Nobels gave him the Peace Prize before he had done anything — indeed, he was nominated only days after taking office. Compare Obama to Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the prize in 1991 but had to wait until this year to accept it. She had been under house arrest in Burma.

Some people think the real Obama can be found in his speeches. He writes or fiddles with them himself — one area where he is not passive. In this regard, it’s instructive to read the one he delivered last week at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It’s especially interesting to read the speech in light of the standard formula that the first recourse for liberals is government while for conservatives it’s the individual (or the family). Even if there are disadvantages — poverty, etc. — conservatives believe hard work and perseverance can overcome them.

Obama agrees. He is hardly the liberal bogeyman that so terrifies the right. In Pittsburgh, he cited his own modest background and emphasized that “if you were willing to work hard, if you were willing to take responsibility for your life, you could make it if you try here in the United States of America.”

If that was a throwaway line in speech otherwise dominated by cliched liberalism, it could be dismissed. But the next paragraph reiterated that thought — hard work, not government — and so did at least two others. “And part of America’s character is the understanding that government can’t solve every problem,” he said at one point. “We don’t expect it to. Some folks can’t be helped if they don’t want to help themselves. Not every government program works.” You can hardly get more conservative or unsocialist than that.

The left, not the right, gets Obama. It faults him for what he is not now and never was — a left-winger. They note that he has not closed Guantanamo and that he kills terrorists with drones — American citizens included — and that his health-care plan adopted the mandate once favored by Republicans and used by Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. As for his stimulus packages, liberals find them unstimulating — not audacious enough to really lift the economy and send everybody shopping. This is all true enough.

Yet from the right comes this caricature of Obama as a wild-eyed barricade breacher straight out of “Les Misérables.” But for all their duress, the rich under Obama have remained rich and there is nothing in his rhetoric to suggest that that will change much. From everything Obama says, it’s clear he doesn’t want to destroy the Hamptons or even buy there. Knowing him, he would split the difference and rent.

cohenr@washpost.com