Commentary Magazine


Advice for the Forlorn

The Washington Post is running an advice column for the floundering president: what is to be done? Well, it’s never a good sign when mainstream papers are running symposiums to examine what, if anything, can be done to save the remainder of the president’s term.

If the problem is that the president is doing too much and stressing everyone out, then he should follow Donna Brazile’s advice and tell Americans not to worry about deficits, focus on health care (which is going to reduce the deficit or make it worse?), and get back to the bipartisan appeal that worked during the campaign. Harold Ford suggests that Obama downscale health-care reform and work on insurance regulation. But Newt Gingrich gets to the core issue and the real choice for the president:

Obama faces a choice: He can attempt to run a left-wing government against the American people. Or he can govern from the center with a large majority of Americans supporting him. He can have either his left angry or the American people angry. We will know in September which choice he has made.

And that is really what it’s all about. Analysts and pollsters will give suggestions on rhetoric or strategy, but Obama’s dilemma is a philosophical one. He’s shown himself to be a far-Left liberal, and the country doesn’t like it. He can keep at it and try to muscle through the top agenda items on the liberal wish list, putting at risk his congressional majority and his own popularity (what remains of it). Or he can swing back to the center, start over on health care, put aside cap-and-trade, come up with a tax-reform and tax-relief plan, and get serious about spending control. That would require a heartfelt realization that his agenda is too radical and will, over time, erode his standing and potentially render him a one-term president.

I suspect that so long as there are allies and advisers whispering in his ear that all he needs is some rhetorical tweaking, we won’t see anything approaching a substantive revision of his agenda. If the president doesn’t correct course, the voters may do it for him in 2010. But for now, don’t get your hopes up for a swing to the center. After all, Obama is being told, and no doubt believes, that the mantle of liberalism has been passed to him from Ted Kennedy. He won’t give it up—unless the voters force him to.