Friday, August 20, 2010

What's Next?

I can understand the frustration of the president's friends and colleagues:

The White House says Mr. Obama prays daily, sometimes in person or over the telephone with a small circle of Christian pastors. One of them, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who was also a spiritual adviser to former President George W. Bush, telephoned a reporter on Wednesday, at the White House’s behest. He said he was surprised that the number of Americans who say Mr. Obama is Muslim is growing.

“I must say,” Mr. Caldwell said, “never in the history of modern-day presidential politics has a president confessed his faith in the Lord, and folks basically call him a liar.”

Reflecting on Obamanxiety about a year ago, I speculated that it was the result of people's economic worries, concern about the administration's overreaching, and Obama still seeming a bit remote and unfamiliar. Since then, the first two factors haven't changed much. Oddly, neither has the third.

In the interim I read David Renmick's Obama bio The Bridge, which portrays the president as serious and principled, ambitious and opportunistic, introverted and a bit austere -- and incredibly restless in his peripatetic life since high school. Critics and even some friends put his quick moves down to his uncanny luck and sharp eye for the next rung of the ladder. But maybe there's another reason as well. During the 2008 campaign, a journalist at "Slate" compared his and Hillary Clinton's Myers Briggs personality types. Obama's an ENFP, aka "the Champion" -- idealistic, rousing, able to live with differences and compromise in pursuit of a common purpose. Good stuff for a president, you'd think. but one expert, Otto Kroeger, added this warning:

As a task or responsibility drags on and its mantle becomes increasingly routine, the ENFP can become more pensive, moody, and even rigid.

Somebody give Dr. Otto a cigar, because that sounds a lot like the president I've been watching the last few months.

So Obama's aides can blame the Birther fringe and his angry left flank as much as they want for his problems. They can blame the press for not covering his events properly. All that goes with the territory. Part of being a good president is figuring out how not to be held hostage by the ideological and cultural dynamics of the times.

Another part? Loving the work. If there's evidence that Obama's growing into or especially relishing the job or making it his own, I haven't seen it. If he's forming the intimate bond with the American people that great presidents do in crisis time, I'm not feeling it. If there's anything worse than people thinking he's a Muslim, it's their deciding he doesn't really care for the job.

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