President Obama is taking his lumps.

I am reminded of the 2001 film, Black Hawk Down, at the point in which the US raid on a Somali warlord begins to unravel and take an increasingly and ultimately disastrous turn. Remember Major General William Garrison (Sam Shepard) listening to the radio transmissions as Somali RPGs take down his second Black Hawk helicopter? Hearing this ominous development in real time, Garrison very calmly but gravely announces (in essence to himself), "we just lost the initiative."

Over the last fortnight, the President of the United States lost the initiative.

Two setbacks:

1. The President and his forces overreached on health care. Too confident in his popularity, political prowess, acumen, and overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration convinced themselves that they could sweep in, neutralize the deep-seated public apprehension that has for six decades stymied the liberal desire for national health care, and roll to victory unscathed.

Not surprisingly, the assault into treacherous territory faced much stiffer resistance than anticipated and stalled.

We got a Blackhawk down! Super 61 is down. We got a bird down in the city.

2. In an attempt to regain some momentum, the President fell back on one his favorite tactics--the prime time press conference. However, the President, uncharacteristically unsteady, unconvincing, and perhaps even boring, failed to reassert control. Much worse, at the end of his unsuccessful thrust, he paused to engage a distraction on his left flank: the matter of Henry Louis Gates.

Super 64 going down. 64 going down hard.

President Obama is in a serious and potentially lethal mess of his own making. In the midst of a precarious fight for survival for which he is not prepared, for the first time, the President must defend himself in the eyes of a suddenly skeptical American majority and face a slightly less fawning Washington press corps.

Now what? How will he react?

Two possibilities spring to mind:

1. He craters. We only met this man a short time ago. We know almost nothing about him. We have no idea his measure. But we are about to find out. And, as I say, there is the slim possibility that he is made of mush--and he withers in the face of his first real challenge. But this is quite unlikely (I would give this scenario a 5 to 10 percent chance of coming to pass).

Remember how the GOP expected Bill Clinton to cave in the face of the Republican shutdown? The party leaders believed that President Clinton was a coward, who had demonstrated his lack of manliness when he had avoided Vietnam in a less-than-honorable fashion. But the Republicans foolishly misjudged the character of Bill Clinton. For whatever reasons Clinton took such great pains to avoid the war, it had nothing to do with his political courage. In the arena of politics, Clinton turned out to be Rocky Balboa--literally impossible to knock out or outlast.

Of course, Barack Obama does not have the political experience that Bill Clinton did in 1995. No matter, do NOT expect President Obama to collapse--it remains an extremely remote possibility.

2. More likely, the President faces this crisis and rises to the occasion. More than likely, the President takes this hit and learns from his mistakes and comes away a stronger and more dangerous political opponent--better understanding the perils of overestimating his own invulnerability.

Why is the President so likely to regroup and fight his way out of this perilous political engagement? He still has the firepower. He still owns the high ground. And he still owns the airwaves.

More importantly, the economy is likely to improve in the short term. While his long-term plans are disastrous and will ultimately fail miserably, the emergency measures put in place by the Fed and the outgoing Bush administration (wisely continued by the Obama administration) have averted immediate disaster.

We are likely to see a cyclical upturn that will propel President Obama through his bid for re-election. To his further advantage, Republicans have foolishly staked their upcoming electoral bids on a continued recession. When the economy inevitably revives (at least to some extent), the President will undoubtedly take credit for sticking to his guns in the face of opposition predictions of doom. And, when this happens, we can expect the mainstream media (still friendly at heart and still invested) to obediently carry his message to the electorate. We can also expect the Republicans to do their best to convince the voters that the economy remains in the shallows (to no avail). Remember how well this worked in 1996?

Bottom Line: we are finally seeing the end of the Obama Honeymoon--but we should not delude ourselves. The President still holds all the high cards. Even more telling, the loyal opposition is not playing its hand very astutely.
Robert Samuelson thinks not:

The Obama infatuation is a great unreported story of our time. Has any recent president basked in so much favorable media coverage? Well, maybe John Kennedy for a moment; but no president since. On the whole, this is not healthy for America.

Read the whole thing here (via RCP). For what it's worth, Samuelson is exactly right. Now what?

In all seriousness, there is literally nothing WE can do to change this reality. In fact, our initial petulant reaction to our loss of power (and credibility) has exacerbated our decline and our irrelevance.

My advice: hunker down and ride out the storm. We need to be introspective--not obnoxious. We need to be thoughtful--not provocative. We need to be getting our conservative house in order. Distractions like Sonia Sotomayor are small potatoes. The coming existential crisis will require a healthy conservatism. The survival of our nation as we know it probably depends on our preparations during this nadir.

It is time to get serious and start thinking long term.

Let us begin...
Is the Honeymoon Over?

I am now watching the press conference live...

In my view, to put it mildly, the President is struggling.

After a performance of this caliber with any other modern president, we would expect some pretty horrid press coverage.

The Experiment:

Let's monitor the media. Link your favorite press reports and summarize the tenor in the comments section.

Don't let me and Tocqueville have all the fun.

UPDATE: so far there are ELEVEN comments--and they are all mine. Come on, guys, throw me a bone here.
Two of the coolest hands on our side of the aisle (make that this side of the planet Earth) are Michael Barone and Charlie Cook.

How smart is Michael Barone? He is a savant. His encyclopedic knowledge of every congressional district in America is beyond parallel. Why does FOX News election central never make a wrong call? Because Michael Barone is in the back analyzing every crucial precinct on the big board. When John McCain led in Ohio by a couple-hundred thousand votes, I was starting to feel giddy (might we have a chance?). Michael Barone said "not so fast." He stopped me in my tracks. Why? He didn't like the looks of the margins in the McCain areas. McCain was winning--but not big enough where he needed to. I could tell by the look in Barone's eyes that we were in for a long night. Sure enough, two hours later we were calling Ohio for the next president of the United States, Barack Obama. Just one example--but I have a ton of them. Trust Michael Barone. He is a virtuoso at separating out his predilections from his prognoses. Barone takes more pleasure in being right than partisan.

Barone says:

"We've been hearing a lot of criticism of Barack Obama in recent days from pro-Obama corners..."

Barone senses a potentially debilitating crisis of confidence among supporters of the President.

Then there is Charlie Cook, who is never wrong.

Cook says independents may be catching on to the fork-tongued ways of the President.

Then there are the disappointed Democrats who keep coming out of the woodwork (Broder, Elinor Clift, Richard Cohen, et al).

Is it over? Is Tocqueville right?

Well, yes and no. It depends on what the meaning of "honeymoon" is.

Pertinent Question: why don't I just bite the bullet and admit Tocqueville is right?

Believe it or not, I am inclined to do just that--but that opinion just won't write.

Here is the thing. Yes. The President is absorbing some zingers from some friendly quarters (liberal pundits). But he is still not facing the wrath of an unfriendly press corps.

I cannot help but believe that with this uptick in the market--and just a bit more good news--we are going to be right back to hailing this fellow as the best president since John F. Kennedy--who, for most of the people who count the most, was the best president in American history.

The honeymoon may be over--but all of his structural advantages (invested press corps, majority in Congress, and an economy bound to go up in the near term) are still in tact.
Who are you going to believe?

Me or David Broder?

Or Michael Goodwin?

Or Michael Barone?
Regarding my previous post predicting a long honeymoon for Barack Obama, Bob and Merrill points us to this WSJ analysis piece: "Obama's Poll Numbers Are Falling to Earth."

The Executive Summary:

The poll reaffirms that President Obama's public approval ratings, relative to his predecessors, are NOT abnormally high for this early stage in a new administration. In fact, they are just a tad on the low side compared to past honeymoon periods and DROPPING.

In the view of Douglass E. Schoen and Scott Rasmussen, the numbers also suggest that the President may well have stormy seas on his horizon. Why? He has publicly declared a mandate for action that most likely exceeds the expectations of many of the swing voters who cast ballots for him.

More alarming for the President, the ADD-plagued public is increasingly skittish about the economy--and, if I may infer, nearing the moment in which they no longer collectively remember the previous president and, therefore, are LESS susceptible to the current strategy of blaming Bush.

Who? Oh, yeah, yeah, right, that guy....

An Aside: this reminds me. I highly recommend Joel Stein's hilarious but penetrating column today: "the economic blame game." I continue to hail Stein as the most insightful funnyman-pundit on earth.

Back to the Honeymoon conversation.

Forget about these polls. They are virtually meaningless. A lot of this analysis is wishful thinking. The honeymoon is in stable condition.

Why do I keep saying that?


1. Forget about the precedents. This honeymoon period, like the election that preceded it, is an event comparable to NO previous occurrence of its kind. All of those previous instances existed within the framework of a media ranging from hostile to skeptical to at least professionally objective. The word that best describes the current media dynamic: invested. In themselves, daily tracking numbers mean nothing. A serious downward trend generally takes a willing press corps to turn misgivings into a template.

If a president's popularity stalls, but journalists elect NOT to report it as the story, will the public ever hear it?

2. More insulation: if criticism does penetrate the mainstream aegis, dissenters face a second line of defense, the wrath of a whole host of presidential stalwarts in the broader entertainment media. John Stewart, SNL, and like-minded enforcers provide a snarky gauntlet for this administration, guarding his flank with powerful satiric artillery.

3. Another Obama advantage: compliant and loyal majorities in both houses of Congress. This development is not as unparalleled as the truly unique circumstance of his media shield--but, nevertheless, it offers the President additional cover against attack. Why? The opposition has no platform. There will be no committee hearings or splashy press conferences to embarrass this president. Aside from political junkies tuned into the overnight coverage on C-SPAN, who is going to hear the opposition's denunciations of the President?

The Clinton administration introduced us to the idea of the "Permanent Campaign," the Obama administration may well render the first "Permanent Public Love Fest" reality show.
Category: Honeymoon Over?
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Thursday, 12 March 2009

1. "Phony War."
I failed to note on this blog the similarity between our current state of denial concerning our new economic reality to the so-called Phony War, the period between the fall of Poland in 1939 and the spring of 1940 in which the German blitzkrieg rambled across Western Europe. I meant to. Kudos to David Ignatius for making the connection in his Washington Post column today; it is a brilliant analogy. The Party may be Over (it really is), but the revelers refuse to notice.

2. Is the Honeymoon Over? In response to my definitive declaration a few weeks ago that the honeymoon for President Obama was still going strong and likely to continue for quite some time, Tocqueville has been sending me mainstream media pieces that take the President to task. Admittedly, the vehemence of some of the reportage and analysis over the past week surprises me.

Nevertheless, I am loath to admit that Tocqueville might be right (which would make me wrong). On Tuesday, in response to a tough op-ed at the hands of Howard Fineman, I wrote back to him:

Are you asserting that Obama is NOT still getting much better press than he deserves? I assume you are NOT asserting that he is getting anything comparable to the last president?

With all due respect to Howard Fineman, this president continues to get the most fawning press coverage I have ever witnessed in my thirty-five years of watching national politics.

Is the honeymoon over? Not by a long shot...

And after this big bounce on Wall Street, I expect his numbers to go back up five or ten points...

But even NPR ran a slightly combative, slightly apologetic piece today debunking some of Obama's numbers on education.

Actually, I razz NPR because I love them. Remember, NPR led the way among mainstreamers in reporting the success of the "surge" in Iraq, an inordinately awkward admission that most of the established news agencies could not bring themselves to make prior to the presidential election.

Now if SNL goes on the offensive, as opposed to limiting their targets to right-wing talk show hosts and obscure members of the minority in the House, then I might be forced to admit that the glaciers are actually melting.

One other serious indicator: I have also opined that the honeymoon won't be over until the White House press corps starts shouting questions at the President in a surly manner. However, after the last ten days, I can actually envision a moment in which the press might actually take on this President.

3. I support Geithner and Bernanke. One last thing. In my Geithner piece this week, I wondered if the treasury secretary might be sacrificed at some point to propitiate an angry mob incensed over the economy and the financial bailouts.

However, let me make it clear that I do expect something of an economic upswing at some point--and I like Geithner. While I am now convinced, unfortunately, that Obama does NOT comprehend the parameters of the economic crisis that confronts him, my thin reed of hope for something less than total ruin in the banking sector has always been Ben Bernanke. My sense is that the Fed Chair is the most knowledgeable government official (and the coolest hand) in Washington right now. This is a good thing. My sense is that he is capable of facing down the mob and the demagogues, maintaining his composure, and making the right moves. My sense also is that Tim Geithner is quiet but exceedingly competent in all this.

Remember, if you fix the banks, the recession comes around. This doesn't solve our malignant structural problem, but it keeps our gooses from getting cooked in the here and now. Therefore, I am fairly bullish on the possibility of a recovery over the course of the next two years.
Category: Honeymoon Over?
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Thomas Sowell on NRO today explains why the "honeymoon" may never end for President Obama:

“the will to believe.”
Yes. I agree that Barack Obama's first press conference belied his promise of a new era of gracious statesmanship. He came out swinging--and did not hesitate to throw low blows and rabbit punches. His partisan assertions reviling Republicans were not just dubious; they were most of the time demonstrably false and embarrassingly patronizing.

If he had only been as generous with us as Iran, whom he called an "extraordinary people with an extraordinary history and traditions." On the other hand, the GOP appeared again and again as a gang of unrepentant politicians with bad Washington habits intent on dithering in the face of economic misery for the American people.

This is disappointing on several different levels.

However, I have heard too many conservatives today gleefully predicting that his honeymoon is over.

Here's the problem: at the core of the President's "unhelpful" tone is the following undeniable fact.

"First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then, you know, I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now and the economic crisis that we have right now."

This is the club with which Democrats will beat us for the rest of our lives--or until they do something worse (which, unfortunately, is a distinct possibility).

But until then--here is the set of facts that supersede all possible excuses. While we were running things, we ran up a ten trillion dollar national debt. Again, the bitter pill in all this is that the principal charge is absolutely undeniable. We really did it.

It is going to take decades to live down this ugly fact. Don't look for all to be forgiven in a few election cycles--much less a fortnight.