Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 2010 1 Teves, 5771
Obama in the Wilderness
By Roger Simon
There was also another reason for President Obama to make the visit. He needed to get out of town. Again.
He needed to do something to nudge the news cycle out of its downward spiral, even just for a day or two.
In October, the always perceptive Mark Halperin had begun a column in Politico.com: "Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment."
Which probably ended any possibility that the president would attend a holiday performance of "The Nutcracker."
On Dec. 2, the estimable New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote, "Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse — a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction."
So it seemed like a good time for the president to direct himself to Afghanistan where he was guaranteed at least a few supportive "hooahs" from the troops when he spoke at Bagram Air Base.
My favorite was this one from the official White House transcript: "Now, I'm not here to give a long speech. I want to shake as many hands as I can. (Hooah!)"
Presidents must return home, however, and after Obama did so, he was faced this Sunday with the inestimable (which, curiously, means the same thing as estimable) Frank Rich of The New York Times, who wrote that "Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or think."
Which leaves one hard-pressed to see what ability this leaves Obama with except the ability to sit on a couch and watch "The View."
The good news was that Rich rejected the leftist view that Obama is a "naive centrist" and the rightist view "that he is a socialist."
The real problem, Rich concluded, "is that he's so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is."
Which might allow the president, "Prince and the Pauper" like, to wander from the White House, belly up to a bar and talk basketball unrecognized. Instead, however, people, even in bars, might have been talking about the in- and estimable Dan Balz of The Washington Post, who wrote:
"Obama now has to fend off suggestions that, like Carter, he is in danger of being a one-term president. ... Right now there is little goodwill on the left toward the president. ... They see Obama today as weak, vacillating and lacking either convictions or the gumption to fight for the principles they believe got him elected."
Which could be a problem.
If the liberals feel the president is weak, vacillating, and lacking in gumption and convictions, then imagine how independents and Republicans feel about him.
Hillary Clinton had warned him this day would come. Quoting Mario Cuomo, she said in a speech a few days before the New Hampshire primary in January 2008, "You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose."
"I applaud his incredible ability to make a speech that really leaves people inspired," Clinton said of Obama. "My point is that when the cameras disappear and you're there in the Oval Office having to make tough decisions, I believe I am better prepared and ready to lead our country."
The Democrats disagreed, and the people of America then decided Obama would be a better president than John McCain (perhaps not the most difficult call in the world), and now Obama sits in the Oval Office having to make the tough decisions.
But it really isn't about the decisions. It is about the tactics: the log-rolling, the game-playing, the eternal dancing with a House of Representatives that is endlessly irascible and a Senate that is hopelessly paralytic.
Obama told us, time and time again, things were not going to be easy. On Dec. 7, 2008, on "Meet the Press," Obama put it bluntly. "Things are going to get worse," he said, "before they get better."
And in his inaugural address, he talked about "a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights."
He said that he would not let this happen. "On this day," he said, "we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
But did we? It all seems so long ago. It is hard to remember, regardless of the president's warnings, how optimistic we felt, how much we believed that people of different ideologies and backgrounds and political stripes would come together simply because it was the right thing to do.
Has the president failed in his ability to play the political game, to satisfy every liberal and win over every conservative? Has he failed to deliver on every promise? Has he failed to bring us together and restore not only our hope but also our jobs?
Yes. So far. But I, for one, believe that after the wilderness comes the Promised Land and that Obama still has the time, the gumption and the ability to get us there.
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