- - Monday, January 27, 2014

President Obama will coast down Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday evening, emerging from his limousine to address the nation as a leader with neither muscle nor momentum.

Gone is all the hope that Mr. Obama brought to the House chamber for his first State of the Union speech five years ago, hope that he would bring transparency, bipartisanship and change to a capital stymied by partisan gridlock.

The adjective nearly everyone applies to him now is “weak.” This is the word that must never, ever apply to the leader of the free world, whether conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. The president seems oblivious to his position.

The latest ABC News-Washington Post survey counts a majority of registered voters who disapprove of the way the White House has handled health care and the economy. Sixty-two percent say America is on the wrong track “moving forward,” as the cliche goes.

Given the Obamacare fiasco, rampant unemployment and no economic growth, how could it be otherwise? What ought to concern all the president’s men is how tarnished Mr. Obama’s reputation has become.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office on a chilly January day in 2009, he did so on a wave of joyous enthusiasm. Even those who did not share the enthusiasm could nevertheless feel it. Seventy-two percent of voters told ABC’s pollsters on that day that Mr. Obama “understands the problems of people like us.”

Fast-forward to 2014, and now 52 percent now say that he just doesn’t understand them at all. A mere 37 percent are confident now that Mr. Obama will make the right choices. America finds the man in the Oval Office to be arrogant, out of touch and out of his depth.

Mr. Obama can bow deeply to foreign leaders and shake the hands of despots such as Raul Castro, but he won’t offer the hand of friendship and compromise to the Republican leaders of the House. He has learned that he doesn’t need to. If he stands his ground, arms crossed, he knows Republicans will bow to his will.

He has succeeded in getting tax increases and more spending by putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the White House door, and he wants more, a lot more. “I have got a pen,” he says, “and I have got a phone, and I can use that pen to sign executive orders.” He intends to go it alone.

Lest there be any doubt about the meaning of the words, the White House press secretary elaborates. “The president has been clear,” Jay Carney said on Friday, “he will work with Congress where Congress is willing to work with him, but where Congress refuses to move forward and cooperate on common-sense ideas to help the economy, help the middle class, he’s going to use every power that he has to advance that agenda.”

Who needs checks and balances? Mr. Obama is an army of one.

Taking decisive action might restore the president’s image as a strong leader, if it’s the right decisive action, but there’s more to leadership than the threat to use force. A real leader considers the cost of ordering his troops to take the hill.

Going it alone to further nationalize the health care system, implement global-warming taxes and grant amnesty to illegal aliens is more likely to enhance Mr. Obama’s reputation for mere arrogance. It would be far more to his credit to retreat from ill-considered words and return to who most Americans thought he was, and what he said he would do with the honor and opportunity put on his shoulders. He should remember his famous promise of change.

He could, for example, sit down with congressional leaders to forge a deal that lowers corporate-tax rates — currently ours are highest in the developed world — in exchange for closing tax loopholes, which ought to please his left-wing base. This would give the economy a much-needed boost and do wonders for his own sagging approval numbers. Compromise can be the strongest impulse of leadership.