On the morning that Emory University psychology professor Drew Westen published a critical piece about President Obama in The New York Times, he had 3,000 e-mails in his inbox by 10am. Many were from fellow progressives who, like him, once had high hopes for Obama. Westen said 90pc thanked him "for putting your finger on something I have been feeling, but couldn't articulate for a couple of years." But there were centrists and conservatives in the mix, too, Westen said. "The issue of his leadership has become a mainstream question," said Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. In the ensuing weeks, Westen's piece titled "What Happened to Obama?" made him famous and infamous among liberals. Westen wrote that leadership narratives are important and that, especially in hard times, the American people need a story "with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought." But, Westen wrote, as he stood on the National Mall the day Obama was inaugurated, he had a feeling of unease that this president, despite all his eloquence, had no such story for the American people beyond the need for him to be re-elected. "And there has been none since," he wrote. And: "A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election." He accused Obama of not calling out the villains Wall Street bankers, Republican policies that he said led to this mess, a conclusion he says most Americans have come to anyway. "The average person associates with Barack Obama, pain, and in many respects it is not unfair to him because he inherited an economy that was going to inflict pain on people," Westen said in an interview. "What he has refused to do was what FDR did. FDR never missed a chance to call it Hoover's Depression." Though Westen said he was getting private kudos for his piece, there was tough online push back. Andrew Sprung on xpostfactoid accused him of unleashing "a rhetorical nuke dropped on ground zero in the liberal heartland" and offered a point-by-point rebuttal. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said Westen's piece was noticed in the White House. At a breakfast with reporters, O'Malley also pushed back, even as he acknowledged that both political parties are trying to come up with a narrative in challenging economic times. "I think the president is very aspirational. I think he is very inspirational," said O'Malley. "What we have yet to be able to do as quickly as we would like is digging out of the wreck of an economy that George W. Bush left to us. I think that is the real challenge here; it is the pace of the progress. Certainly, though, this challenge of the new narrative is not only a challenge for the Democratic Party. It is a challenge for the Republican Party as well." Social scientists and authors Morley Winograd and Mike Hais say Americans have two competing strands of political DNA. The first is individualism, the belief that if you work hard and become educated, you can get ahead. The other is a belief that collective action is also the American way. Homesteaders gathering for a barn-raising, if you will. Today's political establishment attacks both strands. Republicans, in their zeal to get government out of everything, sometimes spill their animosity onto government functions, such as Social Security, that might need shoring up but are supported by large majorities. Democrats, in their zeal to go after the wealthy, often look as if they are attacking the American Dream of getting ahead. This is where presidents can be aspirational and inspirational. It is why Ronald Reagan's "shining city on the hill" was so effective. In powerful imagery, Reagan summoned both the individual urge to get to that hill and the collective allure of a city that all Americans could be proud of. Westen wonders whether his piece had anything to do with a more combative, more challenging Obama that emerged in his Sept. 8 jobs speech to Congress, and in the campaign-style trips Obama has taken into presidential battleground states to sell his plan. "It was certainly more passionate and had much more appeal than anything he has done in a very long time," Westen said. But noting that Obama has many times said he was going to focus on jobs, only to lose that focus, Westen also wonders whether Americans are paying attention to this president. Or to any politician. "I think a lot of Americans have come to see his speeches the way they saw George Bush's," Westen said of the president. "They would rather watch the Simpsons." USA Today