- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Americans are said to be fickle. To hear some political experts talk, you’d think today’s fast-paced life makes this morning’s news obsolete by happy hour.

Don’t believe it.

Americans are angry about Washington, and they aren’t about to calm down soon. One reason: President Obama is determined to do more with government while a growing number of voters clearly want him to do less.

A recent Gallup poll showed that more than a quarter of Americans now align themselves with the Tea Party movement. Exactly what that means is open to debate.

But no one can possibly see the finding as an endorsement of the status quo in the capital.

On the contrary, the survey is a strong indication that a substantial number of Americans are, at the very least, anti-tax, anti-federal-government-spending and - let’s face it - anti-Obama. The Tea Party movement stands for these three things if for nothing else.

The polling numbers make sense when placed next to the president’s consistently weak job-approval ratings. They’ve been hovering in the low 50s and high 40s for months, which for him is borderline dangerous territory.

Democratic strategists think Mr. Obama’s numbers will improve as the economy strengthens and Americans learn more about the benefits of the new health reform law. Certainly by November, they say, the picture will be brighter from their point of view and many fewer Democrats will lose their seats in Congress than are predicted.

So far, however, very little has budged. And the large number of folks who affiliate themselves with the Tea Party movement is a strong indication that nothing will happen for a while. Buried in that number of disaffected voters - and that’s who think of themselves as Tea Partiers - are enough independents and Democrats to make any incumbent, especially any incumbent Democrat, fearful.

Another cause for alarm among Democrats is that the president is doubling down on government activism at home. He wants to put new curbs on Wall Street and limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He may well end up doing both - even if Congress fails to act, especially on the climate-change front.

One surprise out there on the horizon is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has threatened to cap carbon-dioxide emissions, whether lawmakers sanction the change or not.

EPA’s so-called endangerment finding is supposed to have been an idle threat, a goad if you will, to Congress to come up with a cap-and-trade compromise that would spare some of the pain that coal- and oil-producing regions would feel if the hammer really came down on them.

But insiders are beginning to wonder whether the president will go ahead and actually use executive authority to crack down on greenhouse gases anyway. The move would not be out of character.

In fact, all sorts of government interventions are being planned, and old ones will be touted.

The president will stump the country talking about government’s eagerness to force insurance companies to get rid of pre-existing conditions as an obstacle to getting health coverage. He will highlight Medicare rebates. He will tout ending the closing of the federal drug benefits’ “doughnut hole” for seniors.

He will, in short, promote the ways in which government forces business to do the average person’s bidding in the hope of stirring more support for his programs than he’s been able to find so far.

The problem is that stubborn anti-government force defined, at least for now, as the Tea Party movement.

Both the current and former chairmen of the Federal Reserve spoke out recently about the need, finally, for fiscal restraint - in other words, for less government and, sadly, for tax increases.

The big danger is runaway budget deficits, they say, and the need for government, like families, to live within its means for a change.

That’s as much a battle cry (without the tax-increase part, of course) of the growing band of anti-Washingtonians out there who see themselves as part of the Tea Party movement.

Mr. Obama will need to adopt some of that thinking if he has any opportunity to prevent a wave from washing over his Democratic Party during November’s midterm elections.

Instead, though, he’s adding to his woes by emphasizing his continued interest in making government bigger and “badder.”

That may end up being too bad for his party and his own effectiveness down the road. Just ask Mr. Gallup.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations. His firm has health companies among its clients.

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