Politicians don’t only have to lead, they also have to follow, and senior Democrats in Washington appear to have forgotten that.
This week’s health care summit is a perfect example. Since November, voters have made clear that they do not want health reform as a top national priority. Yet President Obama continues to devote huge amounts of attention to the topic, including the talkfest at Blair House on Thursday.
That is a mistake from which he and his party will not recover unless they change course soon.
Like it or not, one of the fundamental traits of a successful politician is an ability to read the public mood and adjust to it. One senator years ago put it this way: His job, he said, was to see the parade forming and jump in front of it.
President Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress obviously see the parade, but they have chosen to walk the other way.
Sure, the president and his party have offered proposals - and have made extensive promises - that deal with unemployment and slow economic growth, issues on which the public would prefer them to concentrate.
But when they have come close to acting on those intentions, the leaders have come up short. Incredibly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid actually shelved a jobs bill that had been authored jointly by Democrats and Republicans on the Finance Committee - a rare and welcome bipartisan effort.
A Democrats-only alternative - the main alternative now available - remains on shaky ground.
In the meantime, Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid talk a lot about - of all things - health care. At a town-hall-style meeting last week in Nevada, Mr. Reid’s home state, the president, on a mission to boost the senator’s sagging hopes for re-election this year, devoted much of his rhetoric on the need to revive health reform.
Back in Washington, Mr. Reid is privately pushing a plan - apparently backed by the White House - that would enable major portions of health reform to pass with a bare majority of votes rather than the 60 votes that Republican filibuster threats have required.
To be sure, it’s not certain Mr. Reid will be able to round up even the 51 votes he would need in the Senate to ram through health reform under the parliamentary protections of “reconciliation” that he envisions.
Many moderate Democrats are telling their leaders that they don’t want to take any more votes on health care, except maybe on small measures that are wildly popular.
But even if Mr. Reid were able to force such a vote to victory, Republicans and a good portion of the electorate would punish him and his party for using a trick to pass an unpopular initiative.
The maneuver would be more proof - if any were needed - that the party of President Obama had decided what’s good for the American people and was going to deliver it to them whether they wanted it or not.
Such brazenness might work in some countries, but not in a nation as well informed and politically active as this one.