Politics & Policy

Is Obama Trapped?

The president has lost the means for Clinton-style triangulation.

It’s almost enough to evoke sympathy: The entire journalistic world poring over President Obama’s post-election comments and applying a humility meter to his words, his facial expressions, and his mood. Does he get it? Is he sufficiently abashed by the voters’ rebuke?

But just when you think the guy has suffered enough, he short-circuits your pity. Traveling in India, the president misinterpreted the comments of an Indian businessman in a way that reveals his tenacious self-worship. As Jake Tapper reported, Mr. Bhupendra Kansagra, founder of Spice Jet, greeted the president: “Welcome, Mr. President, to India. As a fellow Kenyan, I’m very proud to see that you have made . . .” at which point Mr. Obama interrupted to say “made something of myself.” Mr. Kansagra finished the sentence:  “. . . India as the focus of your drive for exports out of the U.S.” Sheesh.

#ad#At another venue, the president offered his highest praise to Mohandas Gandhi, saying, “Throughout my life, including my work as a young man on behalf of the urban poor, I have always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji and in his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world. I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world.” So whom was he praising — Gandhi or himself? Everything — including the contribution of world historical figures — is still all about Obama. As a wag once said about Bill Clinton, “He needs to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”

As to whether the president “gets it” about the midterms, it doesn’t matter. As Bill Kristol has observed, President Obama is not in the same position as President Clinton was in 1994. Hillarycare was defeated. President Clinton was thus free to let voters know that he had gotten the message and would never try anything like that again. And he didn’t.

But Obamacare — and the stimulus, and financial regulation, and the car bailouts, and cap-and-trade in the House — did pass. And many a “courageous” (Obama’s description) Democrat suffered defeat for supporting them. With the exception of cap-and-trade, these are now the laws of the land. Even if he wanted to — and he absolutely does not — he couldn’t abandon those legislative “accomplishments.” Imagine the story line: “President Obama today acknowledged that Obamacare, the legislation to which he devoted 14 months of his presidency — and for which he sacrificed his commitment to ‘transparency’ and open government — was a mistake.”

Obamacare is deeply unpopular. But the president (unlike the country, we must hope) is stuck with it. The measure that was supposed to be the Democrats’ bid for greatness has become Obama’s tar baby. He must defend it or risk discrediting his presidency. And yet his resistance to repeal will hurt his bid for reelection.

The president has not yet devised an explanation of his gluttonous, heavy-handed, government-aggrandizing agenda that passes the laugh test. At his post-election press conference, Mr. Obama offered this account of his policy choices: “With all that stuff coming at folks fast and furious — a recovery package, what we had to do with respect to the banks, what we had to do with respect to the auto companies — I think people started looking at all this and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people’s lives than they were accustomed to. Now, the reason was it was an emergency situation.”

You might perhaps argue that the bank bailout was a response to the financial crisis. You might even stretch to claim that the $800 billion stimulus bill was an emergency response to a quickening recession — though a deeply misguided one. But it is just ludicrous to argue that the creation of a massive new health-care entitlement was occasioned by or had anything remotely to do with an emergency. Everyone understands that this was an effort to “not let a crisis go to waste,” rather than a genuine response to a crisis.

Ironically, Republicans might be the president’s lifeline. If they succeed in defunding or otherwise hobbling implementation of Obamacare; if they succeed in maintaining the current tax rates on all earners; and if they are able, through oversight functions, to prevent regulatory agencies from further intimidating businesses, the economy might improve. And to whom would credit for improved conditions flow? Yup, to Gandhi’s most important acolyte.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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