Last week, both David Broder, The Washington Post's venerable
and authoritative political voice, and Chuck Todd, NBC's new important
political voice, declared President Barack Obama's honeymoon over.
Although almost every new American presidency is launched with
renewed hope and optimism for both the president and the nation (Abraham
Lincoln's being a conspicuous exception in 1861), a time comes when the
public and the president's party begin to assess whether they made the right
Are the public's expectations of the new president being met?
Are the many promises that every candidate for president makes and his
apparent personal attributes hanging together and beginning to form a
potentially coherent and successful administration of government?
It is a commonplace of Washington politics that it is not news
when the other party attacks, but it is noteworthy when there is opposition
within a president's own party.
Last week, on two of his three major domestic legislative
initiatives health policy and financial re-regulation strong
Democratic Party congressional doubts (and, on some important details,
Abroad, the extraordinary and heroic rising of the Iranian
people and the predictable but deeply disconcerting nuclear provocation of
the North Korean regime are beginning the process of coloring in the public
picture of the president's foreign-policy methods and effectiveness. Last
week, public expectations and early presidential performance began to
separate a little.
I don't think the Obama team would contradict me if I suggested
that at the heart of Mr. Obama's winning campaign was his image as a
progressive, idealistic, highly intelligent and masterfully competent man.
Hopes for a "post-racial" society also motivated votes for Obama from both
Democrats and Republicans. These images were projected by the campaign to
contrast (in the campaign's view) with the then-incumbent Republican
In the weeks leading up to last week, the president disappointed
many of his most intense supporters on the left by backpedaling on war-,
civil liberties- and transparency-related issues, while Republican
opposition increased as he made his first Supreme Court nomination on an
identity-politics basis and advanced his intrusive industrial and regulatory
His early predictions of unemployment rates have sadly been
breached by events as the interest rates on Treasury notes needed to finance
the president's proposed deficits are going up steadily thus driving up
mortgage rates and driving down housing recovery.
Those same left-of-center supporters last week were very
disappointed with what they see as his excessive solicitude to big Wall
Street interests in his financial deregulation proposal, while the financial
institutions that contributed handsomely to his campaign see the proposed
regulations as too burdensome and bad for a growing economy.
Obama responded to the Iranian regime's murderous suppression of
its public with a defensible (although I strongly disagree with it) but
Kissingerian realpolitik calculation. The purported logic of that position
sits uneasily on the consciences of many of his liberal supporters who
previously had heard the president's high moral and idealistic tone and
many conservatives, as well.
It is an unnatural and probably un-useful political act when a
liberal Democratic White House cites the approval of its historic
foreign-policy bete noire in this case, Henry Kissinger as
justification for the president's foreign-policy plays in this case, on
But at the crux of last week's political consternations was the
hard-to-avoid implication that the president's domestic agenda
particularly his signature health policy plans (which also have been the
Democratic Party's signature domestic issue) was running headlong into
both economically and politically intolerable deficits and national debt
The Congressional Budget Office's preliminary cost and deficit
calculations of the president's overall budget and specific health proposals
have sent tremors through the Democratic Party establishment, and the White
House is feeling the vibrations.
Not counting the estimated $1.6 trillion 10-year cost for part
of the president's proposed health policy changes, the CBO predicts that the
administration's budget proposal would increase the national debt by $9.3
trillion over 10 years almost twice the total national debt from George
Washington to George W. Bush. Even the president's own Office of Management
and Budget director, Peter Orszag, has stated that a continued deficit that
is more than 3.5 percent of gross domestic product is "unsustainable." The
president's budget is more than 4 percent of GDP.
Moreover, to advance the president's climate change legislation
(the third of his big three legislative initiatives), Rep. Henry Waxman,
chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has had to cut way back
on its early-years revenue-raising provisions in order to induce more
support among Democratic congressmen thus further increasing future
deficits beyond even the current budget proposal.
Though the president remains broadly admired, with his
personal-approval polling numbers at about 60 percent, his policy proposals
are becoming less popular with the public as they are emerging in more
detail. And as even those policies that are popular appear to be
unaffordable, the president's Democratic senatorial allies are focusing more
on their responsibilities as senators and less on their party loyalties to a
Although the president is looking somewhat inconsistent and less
effective while his policies are looking less plausible, it's early, and
legislative success may yet be the president's this season. But it is not
too early for Democratic Party nerves and their ending of the presidential