Barack Obama is a wonderful salesman of a singular product: himself. His effect and biography make a spectacular package. Slender and graceful, with a remarkable speaking voice, his facsimiles stare at you from fashion spreads everywhere, while his life story — up from obscure and unlikely beginnings, black and white, Kenya and Kansas, the strange and the all too corny and familiar — is the story of how life should be.
Obama tells his story through his personal medium really well: writing best-selling biographies before he was 40, making himself a senator on the strength of these stories, and then president on the strength of a speech. The upside of this is that he portrays himself beautifully. The downside is that this seems to be all he can do.
In the Illinois state Senate, he voted “present.” In the United States Senate, he sponsored little in the way of real legislation. As president, he has failed so badly to do what he promised that he has been forced to downgrade his slogan from “Yes, We Can!” to “No One Could Have Done It,” to “Maybe We Can’t Do It Yet.”
Also, it became clear in the course of his tenure that he cannot sell much else besides himself. A year or so after his stunning, spectacular victory, he failed to sell Creigh Deeds, who lost badly to Bob McDonnell for governor in Virginia. He failed to sell Jon Corzine, who lost to Chris Christie in New Jersey; and Martha Coakley, who lost to Scott Brown in Massachusetts. In 2010, at the height of the wars over health care, he assured queasy House Democrats who feared a reprise of their catastrophic losses in the 1994 midterms that this couldn’t happen, as this time he would be was there to protect them. The wipeout turned out to be even worse.
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