The be­gin­ning of the end for Barack Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Sec­ond-term pres­i­dents in the past 30 years have had some pretty em­bar­rass­ing news con­fer­ences, full of frank ad­mis­sions of fail­ure, sub­mis­sive spasms of shame and grov­el­ing, griev­ing apolo­gies.

Bill Clin­ton had to ad­mit that he ac­tu­ally did have sex with that woman, Miss Lewin­sky; Ge­orge W. Bush fi­nally thought of some­thing he might have done wrong; his dad had to ex­plain all those new taxes af­ter his un­equiv­o­cal pledge; and even Ron­ald Rea­gan ate crow over the Iran-Con­tra af­fair.

But there has never, ever, been a more piti­ful presser than the one con­ducted last week by Pres­i­dent Obama. In a nut­shell, he said sure, ev­ery­thing’s a mess, but he just didn’t know. In­tro­spec­tive for the first time, he ac­knowl­edged he “fum­bled the roll­out” of Oba­macare, said his “you can keep it” pledge “ended up not be­ing ac­cu­rate” and ad­mit­ted that his “cred­i­bil­ity” is in the dumper. And he tossed out this gem: “What we’re also dis­cov­er­ing is that insurance is com­pli­cated to buy.” Ya think?

This sec­ond-term un­rav­el­ing has be­set nearly all mod­ern pres­i­dents. Like Mr. Clin­ton be­fore him (whose sec­ond-term agenda was de­railed by a stained lit­tle blue dress), Ge­orge W. Bush’s am­bi­tious plans, in­clud­ing an over­haul of en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, died sud­denly af­ter the Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina de­ba­cle. His own party aban­doned him on im­mi­gra­tion re­form, and he was left count­ing the days un­til he could go home to his Texas ranch. Even the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent didn’t want him around.

Al­most the ex­act sce­nario has played out with Mr. Obama — the pres­i­dent’s cred­i­bil­ity is shot, gone. His plan to re­vamp im­mi­gra­tion? Dead. As is the rest of his leg­isla­tive wish list. And we’ll have to see whether Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton wants him any­where near the cam­paign trail in 2016.

Funny, it was Mrs. Clin­ton’s hus­band who played a big role in the melt­down. Slick Wil­lie, with an eye on his wife’s com­ing run, tossed out the idea that the pres­i­dent should — shocker — honor his com­mit­ment that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” That gave fel­low Democrats the cover to bail on the em­bat­tled pres­i­dent — and they did, in droves.

Twenty hours af­ter Mr. Obama’s de­press­ing presser, 39 Democrats joined Repub­li­cans to sup­port the “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013.” And just like that, No. 44 be­came a lame duck, evis­cer­ated and emas­cu­lated. The shut­down? An­cient his­tory. The frac­tured Repub­li­can Party? Gone with the wind.

In­stead, the head­lines are sud­denly fo­cused on dis­sen­sion in the Demo­cratic Party, in Mr. Obama’s Cab­i­net, and in Congress, where law­mak­ers are run­ning for cover over Oba­macare, aban­don­ing the party’s stan­dard-bearer to save their own po­lit­i­cal skins. In the blink of an eye, Mr. Obama’s ap­proval rat­ing plunged to 39 per­cent — ex­actly where Ge­orge W. Bush found him­self af­ter weeks of dire Ka­t­rina cov­er­age.

“When you take a look at his­tory, when pres­i­dents in their sec­ond terms drop on cred­i­bil­ity, trust and ap­proval, they never come back from that,” for­mer Bush cam­paign strate­gist Matthew Dowd said last week. “When we look back three years from now at the end of his pres­i­dency, we’re go­ing to all say this was the tip­ping point of his rel­e­vancy.”

And the pres­i­dent knows it. In his fu­ne­real news con­fer­ence, he sought to once again sow di­vi­sion and dis­sen­sion — his go-to M.O. In a des­per­ate gam­bit, he sug­gested that in­sur­ers re-of­fer the plans they have been can­cel­ing be­cause of Oba­macare. The in­tent: If Amer­i­cans pay more for health care un­der his pro­gram now, it’s not his fault — it’s those heart­less insurance com­pa­nies! He hopes the dis­cord will help in 2014.

But deep down, he knows it won’t. And by Sun­day, the pres­i­dent was back on the golf course, in a thick fog, on a cold and driz­zly day. This time, though, the out­ing didn’t have the aura of a pow­er­ful man tak­ing a break from his pow­er­ful post.

In­stead, it felt more like a newly re­tired guy just look­ing to get out of the house for a bit. Joseph Curl cov­ered the White House and pol­i­tics for a decade for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is now ed­i­tor of the Drudge Re­port. He can be reached at josephcurl@ and on Twit­ter @josephcurl.

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