Obama, the Mortal
Friday, September 4, 2009
What happened to
President Obama? His wax wings having melted, he is the man who fell
to earth. What happened to bring his popularity down further than
that of any new president in polling history save Gerald Ford
wisdom is that Obama made a tactical mistake by farming out his
agenda to Congress and allowing himself to be pulled left by the
doctrinaire liberals of the Democratic congressional leadership. But
the idea of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi pulling Obama left is quite
ridiculous. Where do you think he came from, this friend of Chávista
ex-terrorist William Ayers, of PLO apologist Rashid Khalidi, of
racialist inciter Jeremiah Wright?
But forget the
character witnesses. Just look at Obama's behavior as president,
beginning with his first
Congress. Unbidden, unforced and unpushed by the congressional
leadership, Obama gave his most deeply felt vision of America,
delivering the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a
U.S. president. In American politics, you can't get more left than
that speech and still be on the playing field.
center-right country, that was problem enough. Obama then compounded
it by vastly misreading his mandate. He assumed it was personal.
This, after winning by a mere seven points in a year of true
economic catastrophe, of an extraordinarily unpopular Republican
incumbent, and of a politically weak and unsteady opponent.
Nonetheless, Obama imagined that, as
so brilliantly observed, he had won the kind of banana-republic
plebiscite that grants caudillo-like authority to remake everything
in one's own image.
unveiled his plans for a grand makeover of the American system,
animating that vision by enacting measure after measure that greatly
enlarged state power, government spending and national debt. Not
surprisingly, these measures engendered powerful popular skepticism
that burst into tea-party town-hall resistance.
Obama's reaction to
that resistance made things worse. Obama fancies himself tribune of
the people, spokesman for the grass roots, harbinger of a new kind
of politics from below that would upset the established lobbyist
special-interest order of Washington. Yet faced with protests from a
real grass-roots movement, his party and his supporters called it a
mob -- misinformed, misled, irrational, angry, unhinged, bordering
on racist. All this while the administration was cutting backroom
deals with every manner of special interest -- from drug companies
to auto unions to doctors -- in which favors worth billions were
quietly and opaquely exchanged.
"Get out of the
way" and "don't do a lot of talking," the great bipartisan
opponents whom he blamed for creating the "mess" from which he is
merely trying to save us. If only they could see. So with boundless
confidence in his own persuasiveness, Obama undertook a summer
campaign to enlighten the masses by addressing substantive
objections to his reforms.
Things got worse
still. With answers so slippery and implausible and, well, fishy, he
began jeopardizing the most fundamental asset of any new president
-- trust. You can't say that the system is totally broken and in
need of radical reconstruction, but nothing will change for you;
that Medicare is bankrupting the country, but $500 billion in cuts
will have no effect on care; that you will expand coverage while
reducing deficits -- and not inspire incredulity and mistrust. When
ordinary citizens understand they are being played for fools, they
After a disastrous
summer -- mistaking his mandate, believing his press, centralizing
power, governing left, disdaining citizens for (of all things)
organizing -- Obama is in trouble.
Let's be clear: This
is a fall, not a collapse. He's not been repudiated or even
defeated. He will likely regroup and pass some version of health
insurance reform that will restore some of his clout and popularity.
But what has occurred
-- irreversibly -- is this: He's become ordinary. The spell is
broken. The charismatic conjurer of 2008 has shed his magic. He's
regressed to the mean, tellingly expressed in poll numbers hovering
at 50 percent.
For a man who only
recently bred a cult, ordinariness is a great burden, and for his
acolytes, a crushing disappointment. Obama has become a politician
like others. And like other flailing presidents, he will try to
salvage a cherished reform -- and his own standing -- with yet
another prime-time speech.
But for the first
time since election night in Grant Park, he will appear in the most
unfamiliar of guises -- mere mortal, a treacherous transformation to
which a man of Obama's supreme self-regard may never adapt.
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