Commentary Magazine


Re: All in a Fortnight

To add to what Jen wrote: The Daschle resignation, and everything surrounding it, is a serious blow for President Obama. This is perhaps the worst start to a presidential term I can recall — worse, even, than the early banana-peel days of Bill Clinton (who eventually righted things after quite a rough start and a massive mid-term election drubbing). The problem for Obama, I think, is that so much of his appeal has been aesthetic, theatrical, and tonal, based on creating a particular mood and impression. Obama’s appeal was not, and never has been, grounded in anything solid, philosophical, or permanent.

We should not overreact to Obama’s travails; two weeks ago, conventional wisdom held that he was on top of the world; today, Team Obama looks to be struggling, out of its depth, and, to quote ESPN’s Chris Berman, “bumblin’ and stumblin’.” The danger in politics is when one places far more significance in a moment than it deserves. In politics the pendulum swings quickly, and in both directions.

Obama has lost a lot of altitude in just a matter of days. There are the two resignations today (Daschle and the “performance czar,” Nancy Killefer), coming on top of the withdrawal by Bill Richardson; the damage this does to Obama’s health-care strategy; the reality that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner himself, by any fair reading of the record, is a tax cheat; the repeated violation of Obama’s own ethics/lobbyist laws; and, on substance, a perfectly horrible “stimulus” package, which was written not by Obama or his team, but by liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, causing his hopes for a broadly supported, bi-partisan bill to dissolve. “This bill [the “stimulus” bill] is like a rotting corpse,” according to Mark McKinnon. “Every day this thing sits out in the sunlight, it starts to stink more. Public support has already dropped below 50 percent.”

There is of course some rough justice in all this; the arrogance of Team Obama was palpable to everyone. They presented themselves, to an unprecedented degree, as purer and better and smarter than any who came before them. They would “turn the page” and heal the earth and reverse the ocean tide. Politics would be cleansed. Reason would prevail. A smooth-running machine would be put in place. Yet now, just two weeks into his presidency, we have what Matt Drudge has dubbed “a circus.”

It turns out that governing is harder than campaigning, and delivering on promises is harder than making them.

Who knew?

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