Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
President Obama has an eerie and alarming ability to detach himself from his own dubious actions.
This character trait was on full display in his speech on Thursday at the National Defense University.
When he talked about the need to shut down Guantanamo, he said: "Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?"
Wise words, but hollow ones.
Hollow, because he could have closed Guantanamo on day one in his first term, as he promised.
Hollow, because even today he could be releasing those prisoners himself, rather than overseeing their force-feeding.
As the great constitutional scholar David Cole notes in the New York Review of Books, "Current law permits the executive branch to waive some of the requirements when the transfer 'is in the national security interests of the United States.' Moreover, eighty-six detainees have been 'cleared for release' but remain in detention. Fifty-six of them are Yemeni citizens, and it was President Obama, not Congress, who placed their release on hold."
Similarly, Obama tried to detach himself from his own Justice Department's grabbing of the phone records of more than 100 AP reporters and the claim by the Justice Department that Fox News's James Rosen was a "co-conspirator" in violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
"I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds governments accountable," Obama said.
Then fire Eric Holder, for God's sake.
But Obama really doesn't want to do that. Nor does he want to step back from the harsh assault on whistleblowers that he's had Holder wage, again using the Espionage Act. Obama admitted in his speech that he believes it is necessary "to enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information."
Most slippery was Obama on the subject of killing U.S. citizens.
"For the record," he said, "I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen -- with a drone, or a shotgun -- without due process."
But then he justified the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, without acknowledging that Al-Awlaki received no due process.
Even more shabbily, he neglected to even mention by name the three other American citizens his administration has rubbed out.
Samir Khan, a young editor of a magazine allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda, was killed by the same drone that struck down Al-Awlaki
A few weeks after they got al-Awlaki and Khan, they bumped off Al-Awlaki's 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki. Obama's former press secretary, said Abdulrahman should have had "a far more responsible father."
And now it comes out that they also bumped off Jude Kenan Mohammed, a 23-year-old American citizen who had been radicalized and who had gone to Pakistan.
The Obama Administration doesn't want to admit that they intentionally killed any U.S. citizen other than Anwar Al-Awlaki because by their own standards, they're only supposed to kill Al Qaeda members who pose an "imminent" threat.
Now I don't care how much exercise President Obama wants to get by backpedaling on this issue, the facts remain that he has acted like Tony Soprano in the Oval Office.
And he cannot whisk the corpses of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammed under the Oval Office rug.
By the way, these three never received due process, either. So by Obama's own standard, his Administration violated the Constitution by killing them.
Obama did say some things that were a relief to hear.
It was good of him to say, "This war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."
It was good of him to say that we are not fighting "a boundless 'global war on terror'" but "specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America."
It was good of him to say that "we have faced down dangers far greater than Al Qaeda."
It was good of him to say that he wants to "ultimately repeal" the Authorization for Use of Military Force of September 2001.
It was good of him to say that he is "haunted" by the civilian deaths of non-American citizens who fell victim to our drones, that he understands some of the civil liberties issues that are at stake here at home, and that he is wary of vesting permanent wartime powers in the hands of the President.
All these things are good, as far as they go.
But they don't go very far.
Not when his policies remain essentially unchanged.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story Obama Should Fire Holder over the AP Scandal.
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.