You heard it first from Byron York on the pages of the Washington Examiner all the way back in January 2010:
This is about the time Barack Obama becomes bored with his job.
He's in his second year as president, and he's discovered that even with all the powers of office, he can't do everything he wants to do, like remake America. Doing stuff is hard. In the past, prosaic work has held little appeal for Obama, and it's prompted him to think about moving on.
... Throughout his life, his reaction to frustration has been to look for a bigger job. What does he do now?
It was a critique primarily cabined to conservative critics at the time, but in the wake of last week's debate, it's suddenly become fashionable even with Obama's cloak-touchers in the media.
Seeing our president hanging out at podiums in Charlotte and now Denver, his famous competitiveness nowhere to be seen, has left me with a question I wish I didn’t have: Does Barack Obama really want to be president?
His campaign team wants it, yes, and his party, and his wife. But if meeting donors and lawmakers is such a drag, and campaigning such a chore, maybe he’d rather be home in Chicago, spending time with his family and small circle of close friends.
Then there's Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, who -- in keeping with his gift for pathological cluelessness -- presents the question of the hour as if it's a novelty:
Someone needs to ask the cut-to-the-chase question: is he enthusiastic about keeping this job, or he is just maybe tired of being president?
To which the answer is: yes.
Here's the thing: every president gets tired of the presidency (except, perhaps, for Bill Clinton, a man who seems to believe that he'll disappear if nobody's looking at him). But the options aren't mutually exclusive: one can be fatigued by the job and still want to retain it.
American history is replete with presidents bemoaning the job. And understandably so. It's a gig where you're held directly responsible for every last national need, want, and desire, regardless of the limitations of your power. If you want to understand how untethered the public's expectations of the office are from reality, watch the next town hall gathering where a solicitous voter wants to know what the president is going to do about the fact that the cafeteria at her son's school isn't meeting his need for gluten-free meals. On top of that, it also happens to be a line of work guaranteed to accentuate the aging process more than a Lindsay Lohan time-lapse.
Still, it's a job with immeasurable benefits. On top of the plane, the mansion, the entourage, and the abiding knowledge that you can incinerate humanity on a few moments' notice (yes, I too am surprised that Nixon didn't use the power recreationally), there's also the fact that you're constantly occupying the epicenter of American life. Dangle that in front of someone with a tumorous ego (hint: no one else runs for the job) and you'll generate a Gollum-like obsession.
All that to say I don't think Obama wants out. And even if he'd be happy to bid goodbye to the more irksome responsibilities of the job, he still wouldn't consider taking a pass on reelection for a very simple reason: it'd be near impossible to frame walking away now -- with a record that even the most generous observers could only describe as 'mixed' -- as anything other than an admission of failure. This guy came into office cultivating comparisons to Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan. Do you think he would want to leave with parallels to Lyndon Johnson, circa 1968? 'Suffering' through another four years inside the gilded cage of the presidency, with all of its attendant annoyances -- the adversarial legislative branch, the constant media churn, the need to fake enthusiasm when greeting last year's WNBA champions -- is a considerably lighter burden than spending the rest of your life knowing that you were President Pet Rock -- intriguing until the novelty wore out.
A more acute read on what ails the president is likely found in Matt Bai's recent post on the New York Times' Caucus blog:
Watching the president grimace his way through the restrained back-and-forth reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a friend in Democratic politics, who posited that Mr. Obama simply doesn’t love being president. Not that he doesn’t want the job or believe he should have it, or that its challenges don’t give him plenty of cause for stress or solemnity — just that he doesn’t appear to actually enjoy the daily business of running the country.
Mostly, what Mr. Obama seems to get no joy from, and what debates really demand of you, is the opportunity to persuade people that you’re right, by making complex arguments sound simple and self-evident.
OK, it's not perfect. One big qualifier: The 'complex arguments' thing (which may be the characterization of Bai or the anonymous conversationalist) is caterwauling, pure and simple. Take it from a guy who used to write presidential speeches for a living -- if you can't put the argument into terms readily understood by an educated layperson, it's your fault, not theirs. Thomas Sowell has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago and his columns are intelligible to the average high school graduate. It takes a pseudo-intellectual to believe that there's an inverse correlation between clarity and intellectual rigor (paging Mr. Heidegger). And if you really think the problem is public stupidity, it really ought to make you rethink that electoral mandate that those same mouth-breathers gave you a few years ago.
But, beyond that, Bai has hit on what strikes me as the key point: Obama considers it an affront when people fail to accept his brilliance as a given. The man has simply never had to win on the merits. Like most professionals who manage to trade exclusively on personality, he has rocketed to the level of his incompetence. And now, when people actually question him, the sense of righteousness that has calcified around an unchallenged ideology has left him at a loss to construct a rejoinder: how, after all, do you debate someone trapped in false consciousness? Barack is still trying to figure out how to tell us that we're only staring at shadows on the cave wall.
I don't think it an overstatement to say that this trait ought to disqualify him for the presidency. Were he the Lincoln acolyte he claims to be, he might have kept this quotation closer to heart:
... [P]ublic sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.
In short, Obama seeks to know whether it's asking too much for us to just take his word for it. And in short, we reply, in growing numbers: Yes. Yes it is.