Published on TheHill.com on February 16, 2010
One of my favorite quotes about politics comes from Henry Kissinger in his book Years of Upheaval, his memoir of the Ford presidency: “A statesman’s duty is to bridge the gap between his vision and his nation’s experience. If his vision gets too far out ahead of his nation’s experience, he will lose his mandate. But if he hews too close to the conventional, he will lose control over events.”
Now, at once, we see both happening to President Barack Obama.
His healthcare proposals obviously ran afoul of the first of Kissinger’s warnings. By pushing for changes that conflicted with America’s values, common sense and experience, he lost his mandate. In that disastrous push for an elusive goal, he ruined his own presidency and his party. It may take decades for the Democratic Party to recover from his folly. Indeed, his push for health legislation, in the face of rapidly eroding public support, ranks with the Vietnam War, Watergate and, of course, Bill Clinton’s healthcare initiatives as the most costly to their respective political parties.
But now, as he faces threats from Iran, domestic terrorism, continually high unemployment and the swollen deficit, he is also violating the second half of the Kissinger warning – his politics are too passive and too conventional and, as a result, he is losing control over events.
In the phase of presidential dithering in the aftermath of the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts, there is no clear presidential message, no coherent strategy… not even an identifiable program. His budget cuts are far too tepid. His tax program is nothing new. Obama,s Stimulus 2 package seems like the same-old, same-old.
His short-lived bounce from the State of the Union speech is indicative of how limited a vision he has these days. It lasted a week and was never more than three points at its apogee.
And, as Kissinger would have predicted, he is losing control over events. Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-Ind.) retirement, with its implied blast at Obama’s policies; the increasing recklessness of Iran; and the seemingly intractable unemployment all provide evidence that President Obama is no longer dictating the national agenda.
As a result, the negatives he incurred by moving too far out ahead of the nation’s experience are combining with those he is getting for being too conventional. He is experiencing both ends of the Kissinger prediction. Republicans and independents are still in shock from his headlong rush into socialism, while Democrats are increasingly restive and disillusioned by his failure to lead. The entire country is worried at his passivity in the face of domestic terror threats and the rapidly growing Iranian momentum toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
While his job rating has remained relatively steady in recent months, hovering just below 50 percent of likely voters, his ratings in specific areas – like holding down spending, cutting the deficit, creating jobs and managing the economy – are all eroding, presaging further drops in his overall ratings.
Seemingly paralyzed by adversity, President Obama and his advisers are showing a lack of resilience in the face of reversals that is perhaps the inevitable outcome of his smooth rise to the top in 2008. Never tried by bad outcomes (as Hillary has doubtless been), he and they seem unable to regain momentum and appear to be flailing without strategic or even tactical direction.
All this might be what happens when you elect a state Senator whose U.S. Senate career was consumed with his presidential campaign as president.