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Kathleen Parker: Obama is having a Harriet Miers moment

  • Washington Post Writers Group
  • Published Monday, Dec. 21, 2009, at 3:16 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, at 12:06 a.m.

Perhaps it is the spirit of the season, but my empathy receptors are in overdrive for poor Barack Obama. All he wanted for Christmas was a health care reform bill — and all he got was a lousy insurance industry bailout that few can love.

Lefties hate it because there's no public option and no Medicare buy-in for those 55 and over. Righties hate it because mandating that Americans buy private insurance or face penalties means taxpayers will have to hand over more of their hard-earned dollars (assuming they have a job) to the government.

Obama, in other words, is having a Harriet Miers moment. Or rather, he's having a George W. Bush moment.

When Bush nominated the in-over-her-head Miers to the Supreme Court, his fan base turned on him. As one ardent Bush supporter told me at the time: "It was in that moment that I realized he really might not know what he's doing."

And so things seem to have turned for Obama. Left-leaning Democrats suddenly are wondering: Who is this guy? What happened to the liberal dream-maker who was going to provide health care to every person in the country while hand- feeding grateful polar bears basking on vast new expanses of restored sea ice?

Obama didn't so much move center as he just stood there and let others craft his seminal legislation. He's still having trouble closing the deal.

The rabble from Democrats must be deeply rousing for Republicans exhausted by their own circular firing squad, as they watch the left collapse on itself like an imploding black hole. Republicans now need only get out of the way as leaders on the left are forming their own death panels to urge euthanizing the Senate health bill.

"Kill it," says Howard Dean. "Kill it," says Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post. "Kill this monstrosity," says Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos Web site, which vigorously fertilized Obama's grass roots.

Meanwhile, Obama's poll numbers continue to tumble. A Rasmussen poll shows that just 40 percent of voters favor the health care plan and 56 percent oppose it. Sixty-three percent of senior citizens oppose the plan.

In its daily presidential tracking poll, Rasmussen showed Friday that only 28 percent of the nation's voters strongly approve of Obama's performance, while 42 percent strongly disapprove. Overall, 44 percent "somewhat approve" of the president's performance.

Suddenly, the entire organism known as "Obama" seems endangered, not to mention all those Democrats up for re-election in just 10 short months. Those looking for a scapegoat have pointed to Joe Lieberman for gutting the Senate bill of the public option and the Medicare expansion.

But the health care rift is only a symptom of a more serious disease afflicting this administration. It isn't so much hubris, though that is part of the problem. It isn't even narcissism, primarily. Obama's fever is grandiosity — an inflated self-confidence and a sense of power exceeding one's means.

Most politicians suffer some degree of grandiosity, or else they'd never run for office. But Obama's is of a higher order, in part owing to a worshipful world (see Berlin) and a confluence of urgent events. Cutting the man some slack, no one could pull off what he has attempted to manage — two wars, a crashing global economy, climate change, health care, energy and unemployment. The scope of such challenges is what prompted man once upon a time to invent deities.

Obama, a mere mortal, is having to invent himself, learning a painful executive lesson in the process: One cannot be all things to all people, nor is it possible to do several things at once effectively. The image that comes to mind is of a dog racing down the beach to chase a flock of seagulls.

The growing sense now is that Obama is desperate — for any kind of bill. What matters is checking the box next to "health care reform" and declaring some kind of victory.

Thus, the man who was going to remain above the political fray has revealed himself as pluperfectly political, ready to settle for the very kind of mandate (without the public option) that he opposed as a candidate challenging Hillary Clinton. Rather than inspiring confidence, he has inspired a groundswell of disapproval and a populist uprising that may allow Republicans to clean the House come November.

In the meantime, left and right finally have discovered a common foe. Too bad for the country that his name is Obama.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

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