The president seemed like a man long celebrated as being very good at politics—the swift rise, the astute reading of a varied electorate—who is finding out day by day that he isn't actually all that good at it. In this sense he does seem reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, who was brilliant at becoming president but not being president. (Actually a lot of them are like that these days.)
Also, something odd. When Mr. Obama stays above the fray, above the nitty-gritty of specifics, when he confines his comments on health care to broad terms, he more and more seems . . . pretty slippery. In the town hall he seemed aware of this, and he tried to be very specific about the need for this aspect of a plan, and the history behind that proposal. And yet he seemed even more slippery. When he took refuge in the small pieces of his argument, he lost the major threads; when he addressed the major threads, he seemed almost to be conceding that the specifics don't hold.
When you seem slippery both in the abstract and the particular, you are in trouble.
Looking back, a key domestic moment in this presidency occurred only eight days after his inauguration, when Mr. Obama won House passage of his stimulus bill. It was a bad bill—off point, porky and philosophically incoherent. He won 244-188, a rousing victory for a new president. But he won without a single Republican vote. That was the moment the new division took hold. The Democrats of the House pushed it through, and not one Republican, even those from swing districts, even those eager to work with the administration, could support it.
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