Alas, the simplest explanation for Mr Obama’s curiously unproductive summer is political positioning. His job-approval ratings have been sliding, even among the young. By a margin of 30 points, Americans think their country is heading in the wrong direction. That leaves a third crucial indicator of political health: whether voters think a leader cares about people like them. Mr Obama has always done well on this empathy question. Today, he seems to be staking his presidency on it.