A tale of two cities
The mid-term elections will, in part, be a verdict on President Barack Obama. The economy, and how he has handled it, will be all important. But inside the Beltway, people are talking about other reasons for his fall from grace. An excellent article in the New York Times magazine portrays a president who realizes that he has focused on policy at the expense of politics, who believes he has not been canny enough in playing the opposition and has taken too perverse a delight in doing what he regards as the right thing, even if people don't like it.
Others criticise him for being insufficiently emotional, the "great communicator" who's unable to connect. I asked one of the Washington Post's leading commentators, Dana Milbank, what he thought had happened.
He led people to believe he would transform this nation - that he would be inaugurated and he would walk on water across the Potomac and there would be peace in the world and economic prosperity. Part of it is his fault. Perhaps Obama was naive in promising something he thought he could deliver but couldn't, or he was cynical in promising something he couldn't deliver. But either way he's being punished for that.
Milbank says the difference between campaigning and governing - between poetry and the prose, in former New York Governor Mario Cuomo's phrase - is part of it. "People saw this transcendent uplifting figure who is all of a sudden talking in a fairly pedestrian way." Although he will try to capture the old magic on the campaign trail, it will be "a little harder to do that now because America has seen another Obama who is pragmatic, calculating, incremental, which is very different from the soaring figure they met two years ago".
At Freedom Works they have another word to describe the president - "arrogant". The group, which tries to co-ordinate and help Tea Party organisations, is hitting the phones to support conservative candidates. Chairman Matt Kibbe says:
He seems aloof and he seems to not be able to connect with the American people. When the leader seems disconnected it is disconcerting for all voters. It seems to me a lot of the political frustration of the Tea Party is because of a commitment by Candidate Obama to be transparent and to change Washington, when President Obama hasn't listened to the American people. It strikes me they think he just doesn't care what they think.
I leave the city of pundits, politicos and pressure groups for Anacostia. Still within the Beltway and part of the capital of the richest country in the world, the largely black area in Washington's south-east quadrant is crushingly poor, with unemployment nearly three times the national average and 43% of children living below the poverty line.
When Obama says "don't make me look bad" and says the message must go out to beauty parlours and barber's shops, he is talking about getting the vote out in places like this. African Americans and young people who had often not voted in the past turned out for him two years ago, and made all the eifference. He needs them again.
In the "My Spot" barber's shop, Raymond Sharp is vigorously brushing a young boy's hair and giving him a buzz cut. The boy squirms. As a barber he keeps his finger on the pulse and rejects the idea of Obama as too remote, too calm.
He's a man of action but he's not quick to jump into things. He really wants to find out what's going on and the pulse of the situation at hand and deal with it objectively. You know former presidents, they just rush into things too quick. He's just a man who really thinks about what is going on before he does it and I feel like a lot of people aren't really used to that.
A few miles down Martin Luther King Avenue, Shervette Bell sits rather forlornly, surrounded by shoes and cardboard boxes, as she prepares to move from the home where she has lived for 16 years. She voted for Obama but in June lost her job as a beautician. She's leaving before she can be evicted. She tells me: "It sucks to be me, at the moment." But she doesn't blame the president
He was left in a real tight bind when he came in. I knew there wasn't a magic word that could be spoken and everything would change overnight. He had to fix everything that was wrong. And every thing was wrong. No-one talks about how it was left in shambles. And it's: "You're the president now. Do it." He's got his hands full.
Does she still have hope?
Yes, I do. Without hope we can't move forward. And we pray for him daily to be able to do all the things he said he would do.
It strikes me yet again that poorer black Americans have infinitely more patience than those who are new to economic hardship, and they don't expect change to happen overnight. But they, too, await results. There is little doubt that Mr Obama's image is not all it was when he was elected. What is fascinating to watch is how much the upcoming elections force him to become another sort of president still - either more accommodating or more political and tactical.