When good news is mostly bad

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

Amer­i­cans are al­ways im­pa­tient with pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates who speak only ide­ol­ogy, and that’s good news for Barack Obama. But they’re even more im­pa­tient with in­com­pe­tence. That’s bad news for the pres­i­dent.

News of the econ­omy, on which the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will turn, gets darker and drea­rier. The polls mea­sur­ing the pres­i­dent’s ap­proval con­tinue to fall, and even his friends in Congress are turn­ing on him. White folks in Congress com­plain that it’s not nice for the pres­i­dent to beat up Demo­cratic sen­a­tors. “It’s not Congress’ fault,” Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa says. Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu, who may be the last Demo­cratic se­na­tor from Louisiana, says Mr. Obama’s treat­ment of Congress is “very dis­cour­ag­ing, dis­heart­en­ing, and it’s re­ally not fair.”

Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters, who rep­re­sents one of the poor­est and most bar­ren districts in Los An­ge­les, thinks the pres­i­dent is an equal-op­por­tu­nity of­fender. She warns him that he’s spend­ing too much time wor­ry­ing about white folks in white­bread states like Iowa. “There are roughly 3 mil­lion African-Amer­i­cans out of work to­day, a num­ber nearly equal to the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Iowa,” she told re­porters on Sept. 8.

“If the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Iowa, a key state on the elec­toral map and a place that served as a stop on the pres­i­dent’s jobs bus tour, were un­em­ployed, they would be men­tioned in the pres­i­dent’s speech and be the ben­e­fi­ciary of tar­geted pub­lic pol­icy.” She added, “Are the un­em­ployed in the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing al­most 45 per­cent of its youth, as im­por­tant as the peo­ple of Iowa?” This is mud­dled anal­y­sis, but the pres­i­dent should get the point.

Dick Cheney, the former vice pres­i­dent, who may or may not have the best in­ter­ests of the Democrats firmly at heart, sug­gests that Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, the sec­re­tary of state who lost a semiepic strug­gle for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion three years ago, should chal­lenge Mr. Obama again next year.

Events, if not nec­es­sar­ily the pres­i­dent’s crit­ics, are be­gin­ning to pile on. In the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, where Repub­li­cans have been rac­ing each other to be the first over the top with su­per­heated scold­ing, re­buk­ing, chid­ing, up­braid­ing and even in­sult­ing of the pres­i­dent, have got­ten the word to cool it, if ever so slightly. School­yard rhetoric — “So­cial­ist!” “Mus­lim!” “Born in Kenya!” — only re­flects the blub­ber­mouth ex­cesses of In­ter­net blog­gers, who preach only to an ex- hausted choir. It could ruin a good thing.

“This guy is al­ready sink­ing,” an anony­mous Repub­li­can aide tells Politico, the Capi­tol Hill daily, “we don’t need to throw him an anvil.”

In­deed, the pres­i­dent de­serves all the room he needs to fin­ish his re­mark­able job of self-de­struc­tion. His speech Sept. 8, meant to re­vive the econ­omy in a sin­gle bound, won’t. If he meant to put demons to flight and squash the worms of a hun­dred mil­lion night­mares, he didn’t do that, ei­ther. He only added an­other DVD to the ar­chives of his great speeches, which he keeps in his bed­room for view­ing in the mid­dle of the night, when sleep won’t come and doubts and fears do.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, his deputy, Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor, and their party col­leagues ap­plied a sub­tle dig at the wounded pres­i­dent by de­clin­ing to sup­ply a speaker to re­but the pres­i­den­tial speech to a joint ses­sion of Congress, as is cus­tom­ary. But why bother? Why in­ter­rupt the open­ing min­utes of the NFL sea­son opener?

The cease-and-de­sist in Repub­li­can rhetoric, which isn’t likely to last very long any­way, en­ables the Repub­li­cans to strike a kindly co­op­er­a­tive pose. The let­ter Mr. Can­tor and Mr. Boehner wrote to the pres­i­dent last week, set­ting out sev­eral leg­isla­tive items they could work with the pres­i­dent on — free­trade agree­ments, elim­i­nat­ing fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, chang­ing for­mu­la­tions on how fed­eral money is dis­patched to the states — isn’t nec­es­sar­ily meant to un­clog the leg­isla­tive pipe­line, but it might im­press cred­u­lous vot­ers that Repub­li­cans are nice, too.

This leaves the nec­es­sary Obam­abash­ing to the can­di­dates for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in what is shap­ing up as a re­ally in­ter­est­ing strug­gle be­tween Mitt Rom­ney and Rick Perry. Their spir­ited back-and-forth over who cre­ated the most jobs in Mas­sachusetts and Texas and who is more likely to do the same for both Iowa and Max­ine Wa­ters’ district in Cal­i­for­nia un­der­lines what the race be­tween the pres­i­dent and the Repub­li­can chal­lenger will be all about.

Mitt Rom­ney has been dis­lodged from the cat­bird seat, where he was tempted to think he had an unob­structed view all the way to next Novem­ber. But noth­ing re­cedes like suc­cess. You could ask Barack Obama.

Wes­ley Pru­den is editor emer­i­tus of The Washington Times.

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