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 white-bread 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 Thursday.
"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 exhausted 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 Thursday night, 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 this week, setting out several legislative items they could work with the president on - free-trade 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 Obama-bashing 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.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.