- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010


In the middle of the blizzard that buried Washington last weekend, President Obama left the White House to address the Democratic National Committee (DNC). His motorcade was delayed for a few minutes because one car lost control and slid into one of the press vehicles. On the way back to the White House after Mr. Obama’s remarks, a tree branch snapped under the weight of the snow and fell on top of the vehicle that had been hit earlier. What happened in between each mishap wasn’t much better.

Mr. Obama arrived at the DNC with one mission: to rally dispirited Democrats, many of whom have lost faith in his leadership on everything from job creation and economic growth to health care and national security. The Democrats present - and those elsewhere - were desperate to hear a newly assertive message from their party leader, a detailed plan on how to move forward, and a willingness to fight alongside them, particularly on his biggest legislative promise, health care reform. What they got instead was a series of ludicrous cliches.

“There’s some, maybe even a majority in this town, who say, ‘Perhaps it’s time to walk away. …”

“Let me be clear: I am not going to walk away from health care insurance reform.”

“Sometimes we may be moving forward against the prevailing winds. Sometimes it may be against a blizzard. But we’re going to live up to our responsibility to lead.”

He may as well have asked why the chicken crossed the road, is the Pope Catholic and whether the rain was going to hurt the rhubarb.

Democrats are seething that Mr. Obama has been AWOL on health care. As with the economic “stimulus,” he ceded control of health care reform to the far-left Democratic leadership, gave wildly mixed messages about his own position and ended up with an incoherent mess that the vast majority of Americans reject. One day he was for single-payer, the next he was for the public option, which he then abandoned in favor of co-ops or exchanges or whatever else the Democrats could settle on. His failure to define exactly what he would support and what he would be willing to die for politically left Democrats flailing in the dark.

Brawls then erupted in the Democratic caucus. Mr. Obama pretended that those food fights had nothing to do with him. He let the Democrats claw at each other while he distanced himself from their dirty dealing and backroom bribes. The result is that congressional Democrats have borne the brunt of the popular uprising against the plan, while Mr. Obama has deflected responsibility onto them for its collapse.

All of this intraparty chaos finally has boiled over. Last week, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota slammed into White House senior adviser David Axelrod in a closed-door session with Senate Democrats. He accused the White House of failing to provide direction and clarity on how - or even if - to move forward on health care and other big bills Mr. Obama ostensibly wants. In his own session with Senate Democrats last week, Mr. Obama tossed out more cliches, such as “finish the job,” but did not offer a clear path on how to do so. That led to other angry Democrats exploding at Mr. Axelrod for allowing them to take the slings and arrows while Mr. Obama ducked them.

On the House side, Democrats are just as furious, particularly because voters are breathing down their necks for voting for a far-left bill that includes the much-loathed public option. They are exposed politically, and they resent that Mr. Obama hasn’t sent them any backup. In a White House meeting, Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed her ire right at Mr. Obama, complaining of his unwillingness to take a strong public stand in support of what they already have done.

In other words, members of his own party think he’s a coward and a weakling.

Making matters worse - which seems to be Mr. Obama’s forte - he continues to hopscotch. In the past two weeks, he has suggested breaking the bill into smaller parts; maintaining it as a whole, comprehensive package; putting it on the legislative back burner; and needing to “punch it through” no matter what. At a fundraiser on Thursday, Mr. Obama simultaneously announced an intention to go “through these bills - their ideas, our ideas” and acknowledged that Congress may scrap health care altogether. His latest proposal is to televise a health care powwow with Republicans on Feb. 25, but details, as usual, are thin: Would it be a debate? A negotiation? A stunt? According to Politico, “top congressional aides in both parties said that they still have no idea what the president is talking about.”

Thankfully, the Democratic fratricide has essentially killed their health care monstrosity - at least in its current, comprehensive form. But there is a bigger lesson in this for the rest of us: Mr. Obama’s all-over-the-map approach to his own signature issue shows how responsibility-averse he is. He is a man of many positions so he can dodge accountability and conceal his true, radical progressive agenda. Many Democrats, stung by his spineless evasion, are just now discovering that Mr. Obama leads a party of one: himself.

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

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