- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Mired in the summer of his discontent, President Obama on Thursday coined a new phrase for the absurdity of a Washington August, when lawmakers and lobbyists vacation outside the Beltway but pollsters and chatterers go right on polling and chattering.

“There’s something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-wee’d up,” the world’s most powerful man observed. “I don’t know what it is, but that’s what happens.”

So, it made perfect sense that, during wee wee’d Washington’s “silly season,” the president took to the conservative radio airwaves to declare that he wants a bipartisan fix for America’s health care system and that a federal takeover is just “an option.” Mr. Obama then spent some time with a group of die-hard campaign supporters, telling them, “We’re going to win this debate. … Let’s go get ‘em!”

Just seven months in office, the legendarily cool Mr. Obama is in the throes of a summer meltdown. Massive opposition to his sweeping proposal to overhaul America’s health care system has prompted the normally unflappable president to lose his cool, and, on a bizarre but blisteringly hot day in the nation’s capital, to strike back at the far right and stoke up the far left.

The day opened with Mr. Obama sitting down with Michael Smerconish in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, an appropriate venue for a presidential interview with a conservative radio talk-show host who broke ranks and endorsed the Democratic candidate in 2008.

Under a portrait of George Washington and in front of a cozy fireplace, the two engaged in a 25-minute diplomatic exchange, with the friendly host firing off courteous questions. But the president took the rare opportunity to revive charges of a right-wing conspiracy — just the kind of rhetorical overkill that was used by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the height of the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Mr. Obama referred himself to Mrs. Clinton’s earlier woes trying, as he is now, to pass a big, complicated health care overhaul.

“I think early on, a decision was made by the Republican leadership that said, ‘Look, let’s not give him a victory, maybe we can have a replay of 1993, ‘94, when [Bill] Clinton came in, he failed on health care and then we won in the midterm elections and we got the majority.’ And I think there are some folks who are taking a page out that playbook,” he said.

But, mindful of his audience, Mr. Obama said he would “love to have more Republicans engaged and involved in this process,” and even said he had sought input from the party now dwelling somewhere in the deep wilderness.

“As far as negotiations with Republicans, my attitude has always been, Let’s see if we can get this done with some consensus,” he said, seemingly unaware that the Republicans appear to be just a wee bit wee-wee’d off at him.

Even though conservatives have been up in arms over the president’s health care proposal, none apparently made it through on the radio’s call-in show’s screeners. “Could you please quickly list five or six bullet points of what legislation must include for you to be willing to sign it?” one caller asked; “I’m a supporter, worked hard for you last year,” said another before asking a softball question.

“Great question,” Mr. Obama said.

But the president’s bipartisan tone changed just an hour later, when he visited the Democratic National Committee headquarters downtown for a rally designed to re-energize campaign activists who helped elect him.

“Instead of being preoccupied with the polls and with pundits and with the cable chatter … we’re going to have to cut through a lot of nonsense out there, a lot of absurd claims that have been made about health insurance reform,” Mr. Obama said.

Is Obamacare a government takeover? Will immigrants get free health checkups? Will the government be funding abortions? Will there be death panels — as the president said — “pulling the plug on Grandma?”

“Now,” Mr. Obama said, pausing for several seconds for effect: “C’mon.” The packed room cheered.

“Look, we know where these lies are coming from. If you just flick channels and then just stop on — certain ones — then you’ll see, you know, you’ll see who’s propagating this stuff,” the president said, drawing laughter with a clear allusion to Fox News.

Still, the PR has been a wee bit brutal. With summer TV in reruns (Tom DeLay won’t start dancing with the stars until September), viewers have been deluged with raucous exchanges from town halls across the country. What’s more, pollsters have charted the president’s plummeting approval rating and conservative talk radio — Mr. Smerconish perhaps excepted - has fed for weeks off the health care debate, with little care as to whether the charges are true.

“Unfortunately, Washington is obsessed with the snap poll … what’s said on talk radio,” Mr. Obama said, just after he had gone on talk radio to tell listeners his side of the story.

On the show, he admitted that it’s been a tough August. “I know there are a lot of people out there who’ve been hand-wringing, and folks in the press are following every little twist and turn of the legislative process, but having a big bill like this is always messy,” he said.

And it promises to get a wee bit messier.

The Obama family heads off next week for a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard (look for a story or 12 about the $20 million house they’ve rented on the exclusive island enclave). While he’s gone, Republicans are looking to control the message, likely scaring the daylights out of anyone in remote-control range of a cable news program.

Still, the president urged his faithful to work hard for his health care proposal. “We are not going give up now! We are not going to give up now!” the president said as his supporters chanted “Yes we can!”

But in the last week of August in Washington, with reporters scrambling for stories, there’s a chance - just a chance - that everything will get all “wee-wee’d up.”

And some may just get wee-wee’d on.

Joseph Curl can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes.com.

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