Last week, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote: "Who is Barack Obama? Americans are still looking for the answer, and if they don't get it soon -- or if they don't like the answer -- the president's current political problems will look like a walk in the park. ... Mr. Obama is in danger of being perceived as someone whose rhetoric, however skillful, cannot always be trusted. He is creating a credibility gap for himself, and if it widens much more he won't be able to close it."
A president knows he is going through a hard patch when even his strongest supporters write such things. But, curiously, no commentator has more shrewdly foreshadowed this quagmire of ambiguity in which President Obama finds himself in this cold February 2010 than Mr. Obama himself in his book published in 2006:
"Furthermore, I am a prisoner of my own biography: I can't help but view the American experience through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful of how generations of people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and class continue to shape our lives.
"But that is not all that I am. ... I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship. ... I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. ...
"Undoubtedly, some of these views will get me in trouble. I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them. ... A second, more intimate theme to this book [is] how I, or anybody in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments" (excerpted from "The Audacity of Hope," Crown, 2006).
The "blank screen" passage has been much quoted (including by me a couple of times) and, standing alone, might suggest cynicism. But when considered in the context of the previous few paragraphs and poignant following sentences -- and when read now, after the president's first difficult year in office -- a sadder, possibly tragic, vision emerges.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.