Howard Kurtz: Obama's Liberal Base Loving His Cool Approach Less and Less

(Goh Seng Chong - Bloomberg)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 31, 2009

It is as inevitable in Washington as sweltering summers and steamy sex scandals.

A president is going to be smacked around from the moment he takes office and the uplifting rhetoric of campaign rallies meets the gritty reality of governing.

But the criticism of Barack Obama has turned strikingly personal as some of his liberal media allies have gone wobbly on him. After playing a cheerleading role during the campaign, some are bluntly questioning whether he's up to the job.

If Obama is losing Paul Krugman, can the rest of the left be far behind?

"I'm concerned as to whether, in trying to reach out to the middle, he is selling out his base," says Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page. "I find myself saying, 'Where's that well-oiled Obama machine we saw last year?' . . . Maybe he's being a little too cool at this point."

David Corn, a blogger for Politics Daily, says that despite a reservoir of support for the president, some of his policies "have caused concern, if not outright anger, among certain liberal commentators and bloggers. It's been a more conventional White House than many people expected or desired. . . . He's made compromises that have some people concerned about his adherence to principle."

Perhaps that's why a recent Frank Rich column in the New York Times was headlined, "Is Obama Punking Us?"

Rich says by phone that there is "a kind of impatience" with Obama as his initiatives stall, but that the 24-hour news cycle is producing a rush to judgment just seven months into the administration.

"The big mistake made in looking at him during the campaign was that he was a wuss or an academic or professorial and couldn't rise to the occasion, and he did," Rich says. "It's too early to talk about whether he's strong enough. He's got to be pretty damn strong to have won the campaign. . . . Of course he's not the messiah. He never was going to be the messiah."

But the sense of letdown is palpable. Krugman wrote recently that "Mr. Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted. But there's a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line."

Arianna Huffington has lamented Obama's "lack of leadership," asking: "How could someone with a renowned ability to inspire, communicate complex ideas, and connect with voters find himself in this position?" Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has noted "his distinct coolness, an above-the-fray mien that does not communicate empathy." The Post's Eugene Robinson, writing about the White House seeming to retreat from a public health insurance option, wrote: "We didn't elect Obama to be an expedient president. We elected him to be a great one."

Robinson says now: "I'd be lying if I didn't say there was a feeling, an excitement that attended the advent of the Obama presidency, and I'm the first to say it infected me." But, he says, "I wanted to remind readers -- and if he reads the column, to remind him -- of what he said and what people voted for. . . . Any president, coming in at any time, in any context, is going to make decisions I might not like."

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