No panic yet, but real fear

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

The 2012 pres­i­den­tial marathon is on, and one main­stream poll­ster (Ras­mussen) says a Repub­li­can ap­pari­tion is open­ing up a lead on Pres­i­dent Obama. (Any Repub­li­can 46 per­cent, Barack Obama 42 per­cent.) A grow­ing num­ber of Democrats fig­ure that who­ever can keep his head in the rat­tle and bang of un­ex­pected events just doesn’t un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion.

Repub­li­cans tempted to in­dulge in ex­ces­sive gid­di­ness should re­mem­ber this is akin to fan­tasy foot­ball. A poll is a snapshot, and snap­shots can de­ceive. To­mor­row is an­other day, to quote the es­timable Mrs. Scar­lett O’Hara But­ler, and the chick­ens of ‘12 are not nearly ready to count. But snap­shots of Mr. Obama’s land­scape, taken on the eve of the Fourth of July week­end, aren’t some­thing he wants to post in the fam­ily scrap­book, ei­ther.

If the pres­i­dent is not yet in full panic mode, he’s right to be run­ning scared. Class war­fare is the Demo­cratic de­fault mode, and Mr. Obama is look­ing for the panic but­ton ear­lier than in­cum­bents usu­ally do. He warns darkly of many bad things — “sig­nif­i­cant and un­pre­dictable con­se­quences” — un­less Repub­li­cans agree to raise the debt limit and stand by to raise taxes.

Mr. Obama has dropped his trade­mark pro­fes­so­rial ap­proach to the bully pul­pit, his long and con­vo­luted sen­tences that loop, twist and turn in search of some­thing to say. He’s serv­ing up plainer speech. His aides ex­plain that he has been study­ing Ron­ald Rea­gan for tips on how to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate, for­get­ting that the good-na­tured Great Com­mu­ni­ca­tor ac­tu­ally had some­thing cheer­ful to com­mu­ni­cate. Last week, chid­ing Congress for tak­ing too much time off, he em­ployed his two daugh­ters as stage props, say­ing their ap­proach to get­ting their home­work done on time could be a model for lazy con­gress­men work­ing on the bud­get. He sounded less like the Gip­per and more like Jimmy Carter turn­ing to lit­tle Amy for ad­vice on how to deal with the threat of “nuku­lar” war. (We thought the pres­i­dent had a gen­tle­man’s agree­ment with the press to keep pres­i­den­tial chil­dren — cute, feisty and able to set an ex­am­ple for their el­ders as they may be — out of the harsh pol­i­tics of Wash­ing­ton.)

The pres­i­dent re­sorted to the pol­i­tics of City Hall in his June 29 news con­fer­ence, rail­ing six times against tax breaks for own­ers of cor­po­rate jets, and warn­ing of gloom and doom for “a bunch of kids out there who are not get­ting col­lege schol­ar­ships” if tax loop­holes are not closed on cor­po­rate rid­ers and oil com­pa­nies “mak­ing money hand over fist.” The pres­i­dent also ap­pears to have been study­ing the mayor who warned that “bru­tal” bud­get econ­omy would force him to close the or­phan­age.

The pres­i­dent’s acolytes are howl­ing calamity even louder than he is. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York hops first on one foot and then the other in the man­ner of a lit­tle boy re­sist­ing the urge to dash to the bath­room. He boasts that the Democrats have the up­per hand in the bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions, but hops across the line into hys­te­ria coun­try to ac­cuse Repub­li­cans of de­lib­er­ately sab­o­tag­ing the econ­omy just to win the 2012 elec­tions. “It is be­com­ing clear that in­sist­ing on a slash-and-burn ap­proach may be part of this plan [. . . ] which they think only helps them in 2012,” he told the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton.

Bill Clin­ton, who is no longer pres­i­dent ex­cept in his own mind, sug­gests that the so­lu­tion to the bud­get dilemma is to agree to both cut spend­ing and raise taxes, but not ac­tu­ally do ei­ther one. “What I’d like to see them do is agree on the out­lines of a 10-year plan and agree not to start ei­ther [rais­ing taxes] or the spend­ing cuts un­til we’ve go this re­cov­ery un­der way,” Bubba told ABC News in Chicago, where he is hold­ing forth at some­thing called the “Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive.” Fi­nally, a plan — promis­ing some­thing and then not de­liv­er­ing — any politi­cian could mas­ter.

And here comes the ap­pari­tion, slowly be­com­ing flesh. The Repub­li­can field is sort­ing it­self out, as pres­i­den­tial fields al­ways do. Only a month ago, any­one would have imag­ined there might not be an au­di­ence this sea­son be­cause ev­ery­one was a player on stage. Now Mitt Rom­ney, steady as she goes but a lit­tle shop­worn; Michelle Bach­mann, im­prov­ing with ex­pe­ri­ence; and Rick Perry, maybe a Texas mes­siah and maybe not, are all the buzz. Tim Paw­lenty, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huck­abee, like vaudevil­lians who couldn’t quite play Peoria, seem to have been jerked back to ob­scu­rity by the man with the hook. Of course, there’s al­ways to­mor­row.

Wes­ley Pru­den is edi­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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