When it comes to self-reflection, Barack Obama is an overachiever. At age 46, he has already written two memoirs when most people in public life -- sometime at the end of their career -- will be lucky to write one.
So far, what Obama seems set to get out of his presidential campaign is yet another memoir -- this one an agonized, deeply personal account of how his campaign went nowhere despite all the media hoopla, crowds and fundraising. It turns out that voters aren't as interested in Barack Obama as Barack Obama is.
Like Jacob grappling with the archangel Gabriel, Obama has been wrestling with his own conscience the entire campaign and has come up lame. He has engaged in a running commentary on whether the tactics of his own campaign -- down to specific press releases -- live up to his standard of audacious hopefulness. Left unclear is why anyone else besides Barack Obama should care.
The insular, self-obsessed campaign of her chief rival is one of the reasons Hillary Clinton has had as good a 90-day run as anyone in presidential politics in recent memory. She still has a race on her hands in Iowa, but she leads there after trailing most of the year, and more than doubles Obama's support in national polls, where he has slipped as low as 17 percent.
All year, Obama has offered voters airy cliches about hope, change and bipartisanship, and assurances that he personally embodies all of the above. He ended a typically precious ad in Iowa: "I approved this message to ask you to believe, not just in my ability to bring real change in Washington. I'm asking you to believe in yours." OK, but what sort of change exactly?
The Obama campaign finally has realized that campaigns here in the real world are won on what consultants call "contrasts." So it trotted out Obama to tell New York Times reporters that he will soon begin attacking Clinton, the same assurance he gave to The Washington Post two months ago. The Times interview featured Obama discoursing on his favorite campaign topic: the ethics and processes of his own campaign.
Obama has indeed been on the attack lately, only maladroitly. He is hitting Clinton for having the same position as he does on Iran. He favors designating the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization and placing more sanctions on Iran, as does Clinton. The difference is that Clinton voted for a sense of the Senate resolution endorsing those measures, a resolution Obama has condemned as "dangerous." While Clinton was in the Senate negotiating out of the resolution language Democrats thought went too far, Obama was someplace else, too busy spreading hope even to vote on a measure he says might drag us to war with Iran.