Racial Kriptonite

I wrote months ago that Barack Obama’s high “likability” number has nothing to do with his true personality and everything to do with his race:

… [Obama] exudes the attitude of a mean-spirited, self-satisfied S.O.B. who considers anyone who disagrees with him to be either immoral or stupid. Hence, it is really hard for me to believe that the more than 50 percent of voters who don’t “like” his policies nonetheless truly “like” him personally.

I mean, it is really easy to tell a pollster that you don’t like a rich white guy like Mitt Romney, but a lot harder to say you find a reasonably articulate, attractive, “black” man who wears his pants above his rear end to be unlikable.

In recent days, two New York Post columnists have tried to analyze the likability contradiction. First Rich Lowry looks at the widespread belief among Obamaphiles that their hero is funny:

…The president doesn’t just make his fans faint, he cracks them up with a reliability that Groucho Marx or Johnny Carson might envy. The president won the Nobel Peace Prize when he really deserved to nose out Robin Williams for recognition as a “Stand-Up Icon” at The Comedy Awards.

Here’s a part of a transcript of a fairly typical Obama event, at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco a few days after the first debate. He was talking about Mitt Romney and taxes:

“So a few weeks ago, you can start seeing he’s figuring out, well, this isn’t maybe selling that well. (Laughter.) And then, a few nights ago — (laughter) — suddenly a guy pretending to be Mitt Romney stood on a stage next to me — (laughter and applause) — and said he’s changing his plan. He is just going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

“What $5 trillion tax cut? (Laughter.) I don’t know anything about a $5 trillion tax cut. Don’t pay attention to that tax cut behind the curtain. (Laughter.)

“During the debate he said, ‘There is no economist who can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds $5 trillion to the deficit if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.’ (Laughter.)”

It’s not just the mildly amusing material. He can say he’ll get rid of boondoggles and bridges to nowhere, and get laughs. He can say he’s created millions of private-sector jobs and get them rolling in the aisles. There may well be an audience out there that has laughed uproariously when he said he killed Osama bin Laden.

The laughter is testament less to Obama’s actual wit than the overriding belief among his listeners that he is witty. When his supporters arrive at an event, they expect to be entertained and dazzled. For them, he is the most interesting president in the world. He exists in a bubble of adoration almost as impenetrable as the security bubble created by the Secret Service.

And today, Michael Goodwin wonders “what’s to like?” about the contemptuous Obama:

So, WHAT’S to like? That question danced around my head during Monday night’s debate. Every time President Obama mocked, personally attacked and sneered at Mitt Romney, I kept wondering why so many Americans say they like Obama even as they don’t like his policies.

How do you like a president who shows utter contempt for his opponent? How do you like a president who responds to criticism of his record with a snide blast at his opponent’s personal wealth?

The questions would be easier to answer if the debate were an exception. But it wasn’t. Numerous reports from the White House recently have Obama openly expressing raw “disdain” for Romney.

Worse, the Romney treatment is no exception, either. “Disdain” describes the feelings Obama expressed about many others during his term. His slams on opponents and critics as “greedy” and “unpatriotic” and “dishonest” cross a line most politicians don’t.

It’s odd behavior for a president, or anybody in public life. Even professional football players, who use physical pain to intimidate opponents, usually come away expressing mutual respect when the dust settles.

Is presidential politics more blood sport than the NFL? Or is Barack Obama just less respectful than your average jock?

The issue is not academic, with most polls showing Obama enjoying a big margin on “likability.” A July survey gave him a 60-30 edge on that angle, though recent ones show Romney has erased the gap because of the debates.

With his economic record an albatross, the likability factor helped to keep Obama ahead or tied in a race he should be losing. The problem for him now is that the more America gets to know him, the less it likes him.

Likability, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and with Obama, it requires distance. Up close and personal, he gives a very different vibe. There, the mask comes off to reveal the contempt we saw in the debate.

Neera Tanden, a former top aide, recently told New York magazine that the president is “not close to almost anyone,” adding, “It’s stunning that he’s in politics, because he really doesn’t like people.”

Repeat: “He really doesn’t like people.”…

At the end of his column, Goodwin comes close to identifying how such a cold, unpleasant asshole could elicit warm feelings from so many voters:

The best explanation I find comes from “Dreams from My Father,” his first of two memoirs. In it, Obama tells a story from his senior year in high school. He was a pothead, and a friend had been arrested on serious drug charges. He describes his worried mother’s visit to his room:

“I had given her a reassuring smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry, I wouldn’t do anything stupid. It was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved—such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”

As confessions go, that one rings true.

In other words, from an early age, Obama learned to use his race to manipulate the guilt most white people are conditioned to feel about blacks. And if it can work on your own mother, it can work on anybody – 300 million American voters, for example.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether this shtick is starting to annoy voters who as of yet have not drunk the Hope and Change Kool Aid.

Most pundits declared Joe Biden the “winner” of his debate with Paul Ryan, but a couple of weeks later, all most people remember is Joe’s snorting and laughing.

Of course, Biden is merely a white guy without Obama’s racial kryptonite.

Like Biden, Obama was also declared winner of the final debate, but again you have to wonder whether Obama’s “obnoxious” behavior (in the words of The Hill’s A. B. Stoddard) is all that anyone will remember on election day.

Or will Obama’s manipulation of “white guilt” continue to work for him.

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