President Obama has been getting a tidal wave of grief, criticism and bad press. He deserves it.
I have had very limited personal contact with him, but I did come away with some early impressions that over time have not changed. For what it is worth, allow me to relate these experiences.
The first time I actually observed Obama up close was when he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate. The American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) was having its annual conclave in Washington. It was the spring of 2004. Naturally, the Democratic candidate from Illinois knew that this was a good place to be.
He was working the crowd at the D.C. Armory and I overheard him saying to one prospective donor as he was introducing himself, "You know, I was editor of the Harvard Law Review." It seems to me that if one reached that position of importance, you did not have to point it out. But I wrote that off to candidate insecurity and the desire to add some luster.
The next time I came into contact with him was when he was Sen. Obama of Illinois. There was a bill that would give Washington, D.C. for the first time a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state of Utah would also get an additional seat. The House would actually increase to 437. This was a deal formulated by former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). The bill was being marked up in the Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). It was a very informal setting. Each of the senators was either sitting or standing, talking to each other in a good-natured way. They were killing time until Lieberman arrived.
One senator stuck out by his lack of camaraderie: Barack Obama. He was talking to not one of his colleagues. His head was down and his body language definitely registered "do not approach." This lack of interaction and engagement with his colleagues was not an aberration, we have now learned after six years. Conversation and contact is not something this individual seeks or is even comfortable with, even when it is essential to leading a country.
Former Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) was one of the very first politicians to endorse Obama for president. In gratitude, Obama came to a Washington recreation center to speak. I asked the first question. "What would you do to advance D.C. statehood?"
He seemed very ill at ease with the question. He did not answer the question. Instead he said, "Elect more Democrats." That was in no way an answer to my question. It was a deliberate evasion. The crowd did not seem to mind. Obama was pleased with their response. He smiled and moved on. There was no sense of outrage or even passion on the subject of D.C.'s unequal and undemocratic status. Above all, the "no drama" man held to his controlled posture and demeanor.
The final encounter, I believe, is the most telling. Obama had come to Robinson High School in northern Virginia. Virginia was considered a swing state. Late in the afternoon, a group of TV and radio station reporters were scheduled to interview him. I spent about 10 minutes with him. When the interview was over, he abruptly stood up and then clapped his hands together and barked out "Next." I have worked for six candidates for president, but I have never witnessed behavior like that. To me, it demonstrated an intrinsic quality of his: arrogance.
Enjoying the give and take of politics doesn't interest him. In fact, there are reports that he despises it. The art of persuasion of LBJ and the charm and affability of Bill Clinton are absent in this man. His low approval ratings are not just because of policy or lack of forceful decision making. No, it's because we Americans have gotten to know him. He does not wear well.
One last point: No more golf. Take up a real sport — tennis.
Plotkin is a political analyst and a contributor to the BBC on American politics.