Is Obama Losing His Personal Touch?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009; 8:42 AM

Remember when Obama bowled a 37?

Remember when he talked about arugula?

Remember the campaign narrative that he couldn't connect with working-class folks, while Hillary was doing shots in a bar?

Well, it's back.

The new critique is that the president is so enamored of his pointy-headed liberal friends, so intent on imposing a 21st-century New Deal, so quick to take on a cop in a racial incident, that he's lost touch with Joe Lunchbucket, the guy who will bear the brunt of his health care plan and other reforms.

Never mind that Obama carried such states as North Carolina and Virginia; suddenly he's part of the Martha's Vineyard crowd. (Well, he is summering there; scratch that example.)

I do think the president had gotten way too professorial in explaining the endless intricacies of the health-care plan. He's been more Harvard/Columbia than Chicago organizer. He was much feistier yesterday in North Carolina, animated and full of passion in a way I haven't seen since the campaign.

It's also easier to depict a president as losing touch with the public when he's dropping in the polls, as the latest numbers confirm. The decline is predictable, since Obama has waded into some tough legislative fights in which there are losers as well as winners. But that often gets lost in translation.

It's always good to remember the importance of symbolism in politics. That's why Bush 41 ate pork rinds and Clinton jogged to McDonald's and Bush 43 used phrases like "dead or alive," all of which played better in some quarters than Kerry going windsurfing. It's why Obama is serving beer, not chablis, at tonight's Gates-Crowley sitdown.

In his rhetoric, Obama says his policies -- on the stimulus, health care, banking regulation -- are all about helping the middle class. But a president has to make that case with more than verbiage, as Obama, who ran on hope, knows as well as anyone.

In that sense, argues Thomas Frank in the Wall Street Journal, the Skip Gates dustup was a setback:

"Conservatives won this round in the culture wars, not merely because most of the facts broke their way, but because their grievance is one that a certain species of liberal never seems to grasp. Whether the issue is abortion, evolution or recycling, these liberal patricians are forever astonished to discover that the professions and institutions and attitudes that they revere are seen by others as arrogance and affectation.

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