Seeking Original Bliss

By Maureen Dowd

In 1983, Genevieve Cook brought a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream to a Christmas party in the East Village. She left with 22-year-old Barack Obama’s phone number.

The lithe Australian assistant teacher at a Brooklyn grade school was soon in a romance with the lithe future president.

In the diary entries she shared with David Maraniss, whose new biography, “Barack Obama: The Story,” is excerpted in the June Vanity Fair, Cook presages Obama’s relationship with bedazzled American voters: passion cooling as he engages in a cerebral seminar and a delight in doubt.

Sunday, Jan. 22, 1984: “A sadness, in a way, that we are both so questioning that original bliss is dissipated.”

Thursday, Jan. 26: “Distance, distance, distance, and wariness.”

Saturday, Feb. 25: “His warmth can be deceptive. Tho he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness — and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me.”

When she told him she loved him, he replied, “Thank you.”

President Obama is still a cool customer. He has a rare gift: Even when he does the right thing, by the time he does it and in the way he does it, he drains away excitement and robs himself of the admiration he would otherwise be due.

Why doesn’t he just do the exhilarating thing immediately? Why does he always have to be dragged kicking and screaming to principle? Not everything is a calculation.

His embrace of gay marriage was not a profile in courage. It was good, better than continued “evolving,” but not particularly brave. He has been in office three and a half years and he is running for re-election, trying to bring back the thrill with a lot of constituencies and donors who felt let down by his temporizing. Who knows how long he might have kept evolving, while his advisers gamed it out, if Joe Biden, Arne Duncan and Shaun Donovan hadn’t forced his hand by speaking out in such an unabashed way in support of same-sex marriage.

Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts that Biden “got out a little over his skis.”

The controlling Obama team did not like the fact that the uncontrollable Biden’s forthright statement to David Gregory about being “comfortable” with gay marriage left the president looking like an equivocator, once more lagging in the leadership department.

So Obama aides began anonymously trashing the vice president, not a pretty spectacle given how loyal Biden is to the president.

They told Politico that Biden’s getting the jump on Obama was particularly annoying given that Biden had backed the Defense of Marriage Act as a senator in the 1990s while Obama “has actually taken steps to repeal the Clinton-era law that defined marriage as something that could only take place between a man and a woman.”

“And it chafed Obama’s team,” Politico said, “that Biden had, at times, privately argued for the president to hold off on his support of marriage equality to avoid a backlash among Catholic voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.”

Biden felt compelled to apologize to the president for inadvertently nudging him to do the right thing.

David Plouffe, the senior adviser, Jim Messina, the campaign manager, and others in the petty Obama sewing circle might want to remember that the opponent is Mitt Romney, not Joe Biden.

The vice president was his usual sentimental self on “Meet the Press” last Sunday, praising the influence of “Will & Grace.” He recounted the story of meeting the two children of a gay couple at a political powwow three weeks ago in Los Angeles, and saying about the two dads, “I wish every American could see the look of love those kids had in their eyes for you guys, and they wouldn’t have any doubt about what this is about.”

The men told me that Biden had bonded with the kids, bringing them stuffed dogs and showing them pictures of his family on his phone.

President Spock, on the other hand, spoke at the George Clooney fund-raiser and called gay marriage “a logical extension of what America is supposed to be.”

In the end, Obama had to rip off the Band-Aid and take a stand, because if his campaign depends on painting Romney as a bundle of ambiguous beliefs, the first black president can’t be ambiguous himself on a civil rights issue. Not to mention that big bucks from gay backers will be needed to replace the lost bucks from alienated Wall Street donors.

The gay community, forgiving all prevarication, was electrified. As the “Will & Grace” co-creator Max Mutchnick put it on the CBS morning show, there are now little boys who can dream of both being a president and marrying a president.

As Obama is reminded of what it feels like to generate excitement, what it feels like to lift the spirits of a demoralized country by using the bully pulpit, maybe he can start occasionally blurting out something he feels strongly about.

It’s humanizing.

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