Obama Facing Barrage of "Friendly Fire"

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"When you look at my record it's very clear what I've done so far and that is nothing - nada," the fictional Obama (played by Fred Armisen) said on Saturday Night Live.
CBS

November, 2008. In a victory speech, the president-elect thrills a rapturous crowd with his core theme.

"Where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can," Barack Obama said in Grant Park.

October, 2009. A late-night comedy show mocks President Obama's achievements with a mock "President Obama."

"When you look at my record it's very clear what I've done so far and that is nothing - nada," the fictional Obama said on "Saturday Night Live".

The problem for the White House is that this satirical view is being offered from voices that should be in his corner - voices that could both reflect and reinforce a politically damaging narrative, reports CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

Recent weeks have seen a barrage of "friendly fire." Les Gelb, a Democratic foreign-policy expert, calls Obama's Asian trip "amateur hour;" The New York Times' Maureen Dowd compares him to Mr. Spock; a New York Magaine cover story detects "the air hissing out of the Obama balloon." Longtime liberal writer Elizabeth Drew writes: "A critical mass of influential people who once held big hopes for his presidency began to wonder whether they had misjudged the man."

"There's a critical mass of people that wish him well, think it's terribly important that he succeed, but are becoming dissapointed, disillusioned," Drew said.

A bad economy and two long wars are bound to feed discontent. But the problem is that discontent can feed other narratives - for instance, that he is too much with us, relying on his wit intelligence and his prudence, rather than a visceral connecttion to the people.

"But as we understand presidency more, there are people that feel too detached, too cool, cerebral, not visceral enough. Not empathy for real lives," said John Harris of Politico.

Presidents can fall -or rise - on such impressions. Gerald Ford was a skilled athlete whose stumbles became a metaphor for incompetence; Clinton survived a sex scandal because while people wouldn't trust him with their daughter, they trusted him with the economy; Reagan's clarity on his core beliefs sustained him.

And after less than a year in office, it's far too early to conclude that Obama's narrative is etched in stone.

"It's very very risky, even silly to say, 'Here's how it is now. Here's how it's always going to look and be,'" Drew said.

What can change a narrative? Well, a major speech on a war can define a president as a strong leader - provided, of course, that the policy he announces works.