Seeing our president hanging out at podiums in Charlotte and now Denver, his famous competitiveness nowhere to be seen, has left me with a question I wish I didn’t have: Does Barack Obama really want to be president?

His campaign team wants it, yes, and his party, and his wife. But if meeting donors and lawmakers is such a drag, and campaigning such a chore, maybe he’d rather be home in Chicago, spending time with his family and small circle of close friends. At work, only his students would press him for answers. And at parties, he could indulge his kindhearted inclination to seek out the oldest person in the room and settle in to hear his stories. 

There are more introverts than you might think in his business, just as in mine, actually; both are chockablock with people who might never speak to anyone without a call list to get through or a notepad in hand.

Only, in love, in work, and in politics, desire is at least as important as affinity; you actually have to want it, and show that that’s the case. Anyone can have an off night or two, of course. Obama’s last couple of major outings, though, were so lacking in oomph that he seemed weary of going on.

In Charlotte, he told us that he was older and sadder than when he’d first hit the national stage, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, where his fellow quiet guy John Kerry was nominated:

Eight years later, that hope has been tested — by the cost of war; by one of the worst economic crises in history; and by political gridlock that’s left us wondering whether it’s still possible to tackle the challenges of our time.

I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you’re sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me — so am I.

These days, he’s more optimistic than ever, he went on to say, but that part didn’t come through.

The message Bill Clinton delivered was far more convincing, and he assured us that Obama does want to be rehired:

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

“I want to nominate a man,” Clinton said, “who’s cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside.” Eventually, though, the voter needs to see the fire in the outwardly cool candidate with his own eyes.

And if he shows more passion on the shuffleboard court than in this presidential race, why is that?

Maybe, just as Obama yelled at Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis during a basketball game, someone needs to yell at him, “Don’t be looking to the sidelines all sheepish. You got to get back and play D!”

But then again, maybe not; in the end, the intensity has to come from him.


Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.