Wednesday, August 19, 2009

President Obama, once considered as politically agile and deft as a gazelle, is now looking increasingly like a deer caught in the headlights.

His poll numbers on everything from job approval to his handling of the economy, health care, taxes and bailouts are dropping faster than a cement shoe in the Hudson River. Perhaps even more worrisome, Rasmussen Reports shows that fewer Americans consider him “trustworthy.”

His popular support is hemorrhaging because all of his major initiatives are either failing in execution or in the legislative process. According to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, 57 percent of Americans say the $787 billion economic stimulus is having no effect on the economy or is making it worse.

An even higher percentage — 60 percent — doubt the stimulus will improve the economy in the years ahead. A new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll shows a whopping 72 percent of Democrats, Republicans and independents would like to see the balance of the unspent stimulus money — about $600 billion — returned to taxpayers.

The cap-and-trade legislation cleared the House (barely) but looks to die a timely death in the Senate. A majority of Americans now reject this scheme as they have learned it would be tantamount to the largest tax increase in the history of the world.

And now, Mr. Obama’s Orwellian health care vision is going down in a ball of flames, with Americans of every ideological stripe in revolt over some part of what’s being proposed, conceded and debated.

The president’s agenda is in deep trouble, and now it appears not even the silver-tongued, savvy political Merlin himself can salvage it.

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard for the Democrats: With control of the White House and huge majorities in the Congress, they were supposed to blow past whatever token resistance to their plans the Republicans and others might raise and easily implement their full-tilt liberal agenda.

But something funny happened on the way to far-left governance: The American people began to reject what was about to be inflicted on them. The Democrats did not anticipate that their constituents might like a say in how they were being governed. (That whole “government for, by, and of the people” is so 18th-century.)

Mr. Obama has been particularly perplexed by the revolt against his ideas, for two main reasons:

c First, he (like the rest of his party) misread November’s election results as a mandate to impose a far-left agenda without debate. The American people, however, still believe in the quaint idea of robust discussion before ideas are turned into law. They also make up a country that remains ideologically center-right. This week, Gallup released a poll showing that conservatives now outnumber liberals in all 50 states, and that 40 percent self-identify as conservative versus only 21 percent self-identifying as liberal.

No wonder a radical liberal agenda isn’t taking off like the Black Eyed Peas’ new CD.

c The second reason involves Mr. Obama’s lack of political combat experience. He has never been hit before. Until the health care blowup, none of his significant political opponents ever really landed a punch. During his early Chicago political career, he ran opponents off the ballot, but such community-organizing manipulation doesn’t translate well nationally. And now he finds himself in the presidency, never having known what it is to take a body blow.

The point of a presidential campaign is to put the candidate through the ringer: to force him to get banged up by his opponents and the press, and to have to answer the difficult and uncomfortable questions, be investigated, and learn the thrust and parry of political swordplay. By the time he becomes president, he has been roughed up enough to be better prepared for the job.

Mr. Obama never experienced that. His opponents — particularly Hillary Rodham Clinton — tried to go after him, but even she used kid gloves. Former President Bill Clinton tried, too, and nearly got booed off the national stage. And Sen. John McCain could muster only the weakest of attacks against his younger rival. The mainstream media, of course, played up to him intently.

The end result is a president who doesn’t know how to take a political hit or repel one without resorting to desperate and shameful attacks on the opposition.

This helps no one — not the president, not the American people, not the country. Having a president react like a child who has been picked on for the first time doesn’t telegraph “leadership.” If he’s flipping his wig about the health care revolt, imagine how he might react if there were another terrorist strike on the homeland or the Iranians moved to nuke New York or the North Koreans sailed a nuclear-tipped missile toward Hawaii or Alaska.

A president is always cosseted by his staff. But as a candidate, he should have experienced the rough-and-tumble. Without it, he stands puzzled before us, mystified by our resistance, stunned by the attacks, and paralyzed by growing insecurity and disbelief.

His agenda is sinking into quicksand, and it’s only a matter of time before he also grows overwhelmed and heavy from a battle to which he is unaccustomed.

Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.

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