The president’s polls recovered after his post-“shellacking” outreach and his “civility” speech, but they are descending again. Among the reasons for this: his partisan hit-lectures about the budget; a number of petulant on- and off-the-record put-downs; gas prices on their way to $5 a gallon; the new $1.6 trillion annual deficit having sunk in; and his seeming like a deer in the headlights in Libya. His original economic and national-security teams might have been able to defend $5 trillion in new borrowing and a foreign policy based on “reset” and “I’m not Bush,” but the architects of his stimulus-investment-borrowing plan (Orszag, Romer, Summers) and most of his national-security advisers (Holbrooke, Jones, and soon Gates) are gone.
The result is a sort of directionless triangulation: Obama tries to move to the middle, it seems to be working, then in penance or shame he trashes the very people he had intended to court, and that’s the end of “working across the aisle” until his advisers see the sinking polls and try it again. And when he tries to follow the bipartisan calculus abroad, it bothers him terribly, so we sorta get Afghanistan and sorta get promised withdrawals; sorta stay in Iraq yet trash the policies that got us there; sorta bomb Libya and sorta not; sorta close Guantanamo and stop tribunals and renditions, and sorta not. His foreign policy is now analogous to his distracted attitude toward Obamacare: His heart is on the basketball court, and so he gives hundreds of exemptions from the party line.