- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If Barack Obama really can walk on water, why is he standing hip deep in baby alligators? He’s learning the oldest lesson in Washington, that presidents come to town thinking “nothing succeeds like success” and learn sooner than later that “nothing recedes like success.”

The bigger the talk, the harder the fall. He could ask Jimmy Carter.

The administration is sitting on an exceedingly bleak midsummer assessment of its budget - and by extension, the economy - that reveals ballooning deficits, slower growth and all manner of really bad news. Nobody in Washington talks in billions any longer. Trillions are the coins of the realm now. The latest budget figures were promised by mid-July and are promised now by mid-August. Or maybe by Labor Day. Surely by Thanksgiving.

The president wants to put off releasing the bad news until after Congress leaves town Aug. 7 for the summer recess. Who can blame him? Democratic congressmen actually prefer something closer to Christmas because they don’t relish the close questioning they’ll get once they’re back home making speeches to Kiwanis and Rotary and taking questions from the skeptic in the street. Mr. Obama expected to have his health care “reform” in place by the recess, to be popping champagne corks with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, but the more everyone learns about his “reform” the more it looks like all that Obamacare would accomplish is to make everyone ill. Very ill, with lots of headaches, muscle pain, backaches, diarrhea, dizziness and throwing up, just like the side-effects promised in those pharmaceutical commercials on late-night TV.

You don’t have to be Joe Biden to say impolitic things about Mr. Obama’s prescriptions for curing what ails us. (Good old Joe told a Washington audience the other day that we’re headed for national bankruptcy, and the only way we can avoid it is to run out and spend whatever we’ve got left.) Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office - the meticulously nonpartisan research arm of Congress - testified last week that Mr. Obama’s health care “reform” not only won’t reduce costs, as he promises, but will “significantly expand” the federal government’s responsibility to pay for it. The Congressional Budget Office numbers seemed to sober even the president. “Health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade,” the president said at the weekend, “and I mean it.” That sounds pretty definite, with a copper bottom and a galvanized iron lid. But Barack Obama is a big talker accustomed to huzzahs from the cult, and when politicians tell you they really, really, really mean something, you should count on not counting on it.

Blaming George W. Bush for his own failures is an excuse with a definite shelf life, and maybe a shorter shelf life than Mr. Obama first thought. The pollsters are just now finding that out. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, published Monday, reveals that for the first time public approval of Mr. Obama’s handling of health care reform has slipped below 50 percent. Public support for his handling of the economy, unemployment and the budget deficit is eroding sharply. Rasmussen, widely regarded as one of the most reliable pollsters, finds that voters, if asked to vote today for the re-election of Mr. Obama, would put him in a 45 to 45 dead heat with Mitt Romney. He defeats Sarah Palin, who has had a particularly bad summer, by just 6 points. Such polling is meaningless in predicting an election outcome three years hence, but it’s enough to make a yellow dog cry.

“If [Mr. Obama] gets what’s perceived to be some kind of a major health care thing,” says James Carville, the sometime consultant to Democratic presidents, “and gets the climate bill through, if the economy recovers, then we’ll all say he had a [very good] summer. Conversely, if the thing falls apart, we’ll say that by July 19th we could see the thing was going bad.”

The president loves campaigning most of all; he gets a kick out of looking behind him to watch his glassy-eyed followers marching to the tune of his flute, bound for a mystery kingdom beyond the river. Stripped of his jacket and reveling in the sweat of the stump, he tells a New Jersey audience that if the Republicans are determined to give him ownership of the economy, that’s fine with him: “Give it to me.” That’s brave talk for a piper, but baby alligators grow up in a hurry.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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