Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Obama's Too-Early Concession

Taking transparency too far, the White House is recapping a midterm disaster prematurely with what Mark Shields calls the President's "retrospective before the election."

"How would you like to be a Democratic member of the House fighting for your life right now," the PBS News Hour guru asks, "getting hit over the head for having voted for the stimulus bill, and have the president say in the New York Times Sunday magazine, there's no such thing as a shovel-ready project?"

Obama's Times interviewer acknowledges the oddity: "It would be bad form for the president to anticipate an election result before it happens, but clearly Obama hopes that just as Clinton recovered from his party’s midterm shellacking in 1994 to win re-election two years later, so can he...

"Two years ago, Obama scorned the 42nd president, deriding the small-ball politics and triangulation maneuvers and comparing him unfavorably with Ronald Reagan. Running against Clinton’s wife, Obama was the anti-Clinton. Now he hopes, in a way, to be the second coming of Bill Clinton. Because, in the end, it’s better than being Jimmy Carter."

Barack Obama's downfall, unlike that of Carter, has all the elements of classic tragedy--a heroic figure with high ideals but a fatal hubris, trying too hard to do too much and being punished by the political gods of stupidity and meanness for his presumption.

But American politics is not Greek tragedy, and a philosophical President is the last thing his supporters need right now or, as Shields puts it, "we have gone from perhaps the least introspective president to the most introspective...he sits there and talks about what it means to him and all this. For goodness' sakes, he's got a responsibility to his party."

Barack Obama may be unflappable to a fault, saying about Republicans slavering for power: “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible, either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything...and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.”

If he really believes that, the President is living in a dream world. What he faces next year is a GOP focused on bringing him down in 2012, goaded by Tea Party newcomers in Congress who will be setting the Republican elders' pants on fire.

In the remaining two weeks of the campaign, he still has a small window to rouse his supporters to minimize that by fighting ferociously for key House and Senate seats. After that, le deluge could give him plenty of time for impotent philosophizing as Washington grinds to a standstill that could make 1994 pale by comparison.

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