A growing number of allies are beginning to question Obama's mettle, arguing that he is committing a political sin far worse than detachment. It looks like he has given up, Democrats grumble privately, saying the political cynicism the president so actively decries in public speeches is actually reflected in his actions.
In his State of the Union address, Obama promised that 2014 would be a “year of action.” Some in his own party are still waiting for the president to live up to that billing.
“He can blame Republicans all he wants for getting in his way,” a House Democratic aide said, as Obama enjoyed another round of golf during his Martha’s Vineyard vacation. “But throw a few punches at least. Sometimes, it looks like he’s played out the results in his head and calculated that it’s not worth making the effort to try to get something done.”
"At least try not to look like a lame duck," added a senior Democratic Senate aide.
That criticism became especially strong when Obama hit the links Wednesday afternoon immediately after giving a speech condemning the beheading of journalist James Foley. It was later revealed that the Obama administration attempted a secret mission to rescue Foley and others captured by ISIS, but ultimately failed.
Republicans say the day’s events were indicative of Obama’s approach to crisis management: Give a speech, promise action but worry far less about the follow through.
“This narrative makes no sense,” a senior administration official told the Washington Examiner. “Time and time again, they say, 'Obama is acting above the law. He’s an imperialist president.' Then they accuse him of being weak and doing nothing. Which one is it?”
However, Republicans contend that Obama’s reliance on executive actions is more an indication of his unwillingness to maneuver through the legislative process than acting from a position of strength. They say the presidential candidate of "hope and change" has become resigned to the status quo.
Democratic lawmakers have long been disappointed by the president’s lack of outreach to Capitol Hill, but that criticism has carried over into his approach to global affairs, especially given the barrage of crises in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Afghanistan and Ukraine.
"He doesn’t radiate enthusiasm,” said Charles Walcott, a Virginia Tech political scientist and an expert on the presidency. “I think almost all presidents eventually come to realize that you are who you are and others just have to accept it.”
But Obama has been quick to brush off questions about his resolve, almost mirroring George W. Bush’s insistence that his presidential record would be validated by history.
“The things you start may not come to full fruition on your timetable,” Obama said in an interview with the New Yorker earlier this year. “But you can move things forward. And sometimes the things that start small may turn out to be fairly significant.”
But what does that mindset say about Obama's final two years in office?
“He’s clearly in over his head,” said GOP strategist Mark Corallo. “He really believed his press clippings in the beginning — he really believed the power of his presence would accomplish everything. He doesn’t like not getting his way immediately. I see him continuing to play golf.”