In the Arena

Overmatched by Events?

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This is the silly season among my dear colleagues in the press. We’re at the ugliest stage of the health care sausage-making–and so there are all sorts of dire predictions going around. Of course, the wingnuts are the worst. You can see blog posts with sentences like this almost every fifteen minutes:

Suddenly, six months into his presidency, Obama is beginning to look overmatched by events, on almost every front. 

Of course, the writer of that post has been predicting the fall of Obama every fifteen minutes since January 20. But there is also a certain amount of half-crazed impatience from more mainstream sorts. Could I just say: this is nuts. It reminds me of, well… me predicting the end of Bill Clinton when his health care plan failed and he was wiped out in the 1994 Congressional races. Of course, he went on to win a solid victory over Bob Dole and Ross Perot in 1996.

Older and perhaps wiser now, let me say this: Obama could still enact health care reform this year, perhaps even something decent–although the chances of that are limited by the dunderheads in Congress–and the odds may even be in his favor. But he could also lose it. If so, that would be bad news for his political prospects–but not cataclysmic. Politics moves slower than the media. In fact, one of Bill Clinton’s greatest attributes was his sense of political chronology: he always knew how much time he had. Right now, Barack Obama remains a popular president–even though the things he is trying to do domestically are complicated and very hard to sell. He may not succeed in selling them. He may–in fact, I believe he will–have to take more dramatic action to pull the country out of the recession. A second stimulus package seems inevitable, if for no other reason than to bail out the states once again next year. He will make mistakes along the way. He already has. But, as Bill Clinton learned, if you are really trying to help the working people of America, they’ll forgive a lot. 

The Administration has barely begun. It is not facing a crisis. The country is in a hole, but Barack Obama didn’t put us there–a 30-year political pendulum swing that lurched a bit too far to the right put us there. It will take intelligence and patience to climb out of the hole. I don’t see many politicians of either party right now who combine those attributes. Or many journalists, for that matter.