That is the question that is posed by psychology professor Drew Westen in a long essay in today’s New York Times. Westen is a stereotypical liberal who thinks Obama’s problem is that he isn’t tough enough or far-left enough. His ignorance of history is so glaring that the essay isn’t worth responding to in detail. Along the way, however, Westen does hint at the truth:
A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted “present” (instead of “yea” or “nay”) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.
Westen moves on without seriously considering the implications of this paragraph, but in fact it suggests the real answer to the question, What happened to Obama’s passion? That answer is: What passion?
Barack Obama has led a singularly low-impact life. His achievements as a “community organizer” were…what, exactly? As an instructor in the law, not only did he produce no significant scholarship, there is no evidence that he made any impact on his students. Consider that point for a moment. Isn’t it extraordinary, given the press adulation in which Obama has basked for the last four years, that reporters have been unable to come up with a single student who says he was inspired, or even impressed, by Obama’s teaching?
Then we have his brief and undistinguished career in the Illinois Senate, followed by an even briefer and less distinguished career in the United States Senate. Passion? What passion?
The truth is that there is only one context in which Obama has ever displayed passion–that is, when he was running for political office. When Democrats say, Where is the Obama we voted for and thought we knew? they are referring to Obama the candidate. It is not hard to see why Obama is passionate about his political campaigns, when he is seemingly so indifferent to almost everything else: they are about him.
All of which suggests that, with Obama’s re-election campaign just around the corner, we are about to witness a re-emergence of the passionate Obama with whom Democrats became infatuated years ago. Once again, it will be all about him, and Obama will be charged up and, for the first time since 2008, fully engaged. The question, of course, is whether anything Obama says or does can erase voters’ memories of an administration that has been, in most respects, a train wreck.