New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd continues her rant against a president she characterizes as an effete, out of touch elitist who is willfully ignorant of the plights of the common person. The column, Myth and Madness, begins as a discussion about Delaware's GOP nominee for Senate, the much maligned tea-party darling Christine O'Donnell, then pivots about halfway through to yet another piece about Obama's inability to feel our pain.
Dowd writes, "Obama can connect with policy. He just can’t connect with the objects of policy. Empathy seems more like an abstract concept than something to practice." In this column and others, Dowd concedes that the Obama administration advocates for policies, and often effectively, that assist those struggling in this economy, but she claims that the president's inability to connect on a visceral level with those hurting leaves him impotent and provides fuel to the Tea Party fire. She finds a parallel in the recent ouster of DC's mayor, Adrian Fenty, who was defeated despite his record of lowering crime, improving schools, and revitalizing forgotten neighborhoods. Even with his successes as mayor, Fenty was charged with the unforgivable crime of being distant and cold, prompting a somewhat pathetic I'll-be-more-friendly-next-term tour in the weeks leading to the Democratic primary (which in this city is when mayors are chosen; the GOP doesn't even have a candidate in the race).
To those such as Dowd, who simultaneously view Obama (and Fenty) as capable leaders and aloof elites, men and women like this deserve considerable criticism from an unsettled electorate and perhaps are worthy of being booted out of office. But do we elect presidents and mayors to manage our budgets and personnel, or to be our mental health gurus and best-buds-in-chief? So the president no longer sends thrills up our legs, as Chris Matthews once termed it, but he seems to be effectively managing two wars, attending to an economy that was spiraling out of control, and passing major initiatives such as health insurance reform that have eluded even his most empathetic predecessors. In Washington, a mayor began the difficult process of transforiming the image of a city viewed by most as a cesspool of political cronyism and corruption to one that is serious about education and safety. But he failed to enchant and charm the city's residents, who responded to reform with rejection. Americans are increasingly facing a stark choice at the ballot box: those who offer the perception of understanding but who lack any real qualifications to govern (see: Sarah Palin) and those who seem aloof and distant yet capable of managing and offering solutions to myriad challenges. With the seriousness of these challenges, I'll gladly take the competent-though-distant leader, and look for emotional support from my friends and family.