It’s not a good sign for the Obami when Politico — the Daily Variety of D.C. (e.g., in a company town, the insiders’ news outlet) — runs a forum looking at whether Obama’s top legislative issue is kaput if Scott Brown wins and how it was that Obama is now the target of public “anger.” One of the savviest comments comes from a financial institutions professor, Charles Calomiris, who writes:
I am puzzled that anyone can claim to be puzzled by the collapse of the popularity of the Obama Presidency (which I have been tracking and talking about here in the Arena for many months). Candidate Obama was elected by misleading people that he would govern as a moderate. That cat is now out of the bag. He is obviously a leftist bent on redistribution, rising control of the economy by government, protectionism, and bailing out auto unions. His political style is also not as advertised: he is just another Chicago-style political bully, who uses backroom deals (health care is the most obvious example) to get what he wants.
Well, the professor has a point. And it is indicative of the growing sense that the same empty rhetoric that got Obama into the White House and through his first year isn’t going to fly any longer. More important, it’s a reminder that Obama hasn’t really faced political adversity before or, frankly, anything less than widespread adulation. He slid through a Senate race where one potential opponent blew himself up in a personal scandal and another was not a viable candidate in Illinois. He ran against a Clinton campaign that misread the moment, and then against a McCain campaign that was on its best days hapless and on its worst, unintelligible. And then the financial meltdown struck just in time for the election. A more fortunate political candidate with a thinner resume would be hard to find.
So the question remains: does Obama possess the resources, skills, and flexibility to adjust, if need be, to a new political reality and to rescue the remainder of his agenda? Can he rethink his political assumptions and refashion his own governing style? If Scott Brown loses, we will find out in short order. If the Democrats get drubbed in November, we will see again. As with so much else, we have no prior experience with Obama, no demonstrated track record, by which we might assess how or whether he can do this. He didn’t have any executive experience, let alone any executive experience in turning around a failing operation. But it looks like he may have to do just that, or suffer the same fate as other unsuccessful, one-term presidents whose tenures in office never lived up to their campaign billings.