- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2010


Believe it or not, Congress has designated September as Pain Awareness Month. The label is redundant. Americans don’t need to be reminded how much pain they’re in. And that’s the political problem of the moment.

Every piece of news voters hear these days is terrible. An oil spill threatens the Gulf of Mexico. The housing market sinks. Even the weather has been extreme.

There’s not much the president can do about the weather. Then again, it is his job to try to ease the country’s agony, whatever that might be. And there, he has been falling down.

President Obama has not been the empathizer in chief. He has not even been the inspirational speaker who wowed the electorate and won voters’ hearts a couple years ago.

Remember his victory speeches after the Iowa caucuses and the November election? If you saw them, you could not forget them. They were that good.

But those kinds of flights of rhetorical greatness don’t seem to happen anymore.

Take Mr. Obama’s recent speech from the Oval Office about the end of combat in Iraq. It should have been a celebration, a moment of national pride.

After all, he had completed a campaign promise, which will save hundreds if not thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars. What could be bigger - or better - than the end of a war?

We should have seen from the president an appeal to emotions as well as intellect. What the president should have offered was inspiration and - dare the word be used? - hope. That would have been entirely appropriate.

Instead, the nation was treated to a bland mishmash. The president obviously felt freighted with his predecessor’s mistaken claim of “mission accomplished” in Iraq long before it really was. He went on at great length about how this was not a victory.

He also felt compelled to try to explain - in the same speech - that his unpopular war in Afghanistan was actually a good idea. Certainly that was a downer.

Then, to complicate matters even more, he proved himself to be so poll-driven that he ended his address with a reference to the economy. As pollsters have been telling us for a year, what Americans really care about is jobs, jobs, jobs. So even in a speech about the military, that’s what the president focused in his closing thoughts.

He said in effect that the reason to end the war (or wars) was to bring more resources home, where they were really needed to reduce the problem of high unemployment.

The notion is slightly specious and is also so defensive as to all but give off the odor of fear. The president was stiff, overly cerebral and, apparently, afraid of his audience at a moment when he should have been triumphant and proud.

He had a moment to act like a leader, and he decided to retreat.

All of which begs the question: What happened to the great orator who was elected president?

Maybe he has been beaten down by the hardships of governing. Or maybe he has been cowed by conventional wisdom that Democrats will be routed in the upcoming midterm elections.

Whatever the reason, he clearly is doing his party no favors at a time when it could really use some benefit from its biggest weapon.

Instead, all voters feel is the pain of the ongoing economic slowdown and the nagging worry that things will not get better soon. They are concerned about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, they are distrustful (for the most part) of the benefits of health care reform, and they are anxious that the nation’s debt bomb will explode and make economic conditions even worse.

That’s a lot of pain.

Without the president taking the edge off that ache, the bad news has settled like a shroud over the electorate. There isn’t much excitement or optimism about almost anything that would encourage even die-hard Democrats to head to the polls to vote their people back into office.

In honor of Pain Awareness Month, the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians is planning a monthlong educational campaign to improve the quality of life for what it says is the approximately 75 million Americans who suffer from acute and chronic pain.

Democrats will be lucky if just 75 million Americans are feeling the pain this autumn. Then they might have had a shot at keeping control of the House.

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations. His firm has health companies as clients.

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