So it was an ominous sign for Barack Obama last week when he appeared in the White House for a press conference that was his most uncomfortable to date. Reporters who had thus far treated him with deference and even admiration treated him with something close to disrespect. Obama, as the New York Times put it, "has rarely experienced as combative and contentious an hour on live television as he did on Tuesday afternoon". Had his response to Iran, one asked, been "timid and weak"? Another tweaked the president's "Spock-like language" about healthcare reform. One even grilled an increasingly irritated president about his furtive smoking habits. The treatment left Obama a bit testy. "I got it," he groused. "You're pitching, I'm catching."
Indeed he has been catching - catching flak, that is, from critics on left and right and over both his foreign and domestic agendas. As he approaches the six-month mark of his presidency, his job has become less glamorous and more gruelling. Allies in Congress are restive and for the first time, the whiff of failures and defeats is in the air. Thus the new tone from the White House press corps, which, like animals in the wild, preys on the weak. But don't be fooled by this dark patch. Obama's long-term prospects remain bright.
Crowley, then makes an even starker point.
The only thing that makes his congressional Democratic allies more nervous than supporting sweeping and expensive healthcare reform is the grand climate-change plan, passed by the House on Friday.
So, let's see if I have this straight. The press corp is becoming more combative. His allies are getting more nervous. There's more and more talk of failure. Furthermore, the center piece of his entire domestic agenda lies in bills that make his own allies nervous to pass. Now, there's a recipe for success if I've ever seen one.
So, how does Crowley believe that all will go well? Magic, that's how.
Congress is beginning to craft a healthcare plan with Obama's guidance and the early going hasn't been pretty. Proposals have carried eye-popping price tags ($1.6 trillion, according to one preliminary estimate by a Senate finance committee), while covering a disappointingly small number of Americans. Nor have the Democrats quite settled on how they will pay for a massive expansion of care. Last week, a prominent House Democrat pronounced that "healthcare reform is on life support".
Don't be surprised if Obama resuscitates it. Although many Democrats are nervous about his plan's cost,
As for climate chage, again, Obama will magically create a winner here.
However urgent it may be to fight global warming, public support for environmentalism drops dramatically in times of economic distress. But look for Obama to settle for a modest plan - a symbolic victory - rather than accept a stark political defeat.
Crowley makes a few good points. That is that we still have 16 months until the election. That gives the economy plenty of time to recover. Furthermore, more people than not still blame Bush for our troubles. Finally, we should see stimulus money spent faster going forward.
All of that maybe true, but Crowley continues to ignore reality. First, unemployment is headed to ten percent. Once it crosses over, September or October, then, it will officially be Obama's economy. Second, unemployment will likely reach 11% at least before it tops out. Furthermore, it's a laggin indicator. That means it will continue to rise long after the economy has begun to recover. So, even if jobs begin to come back this time next year, we'll be looking at double digit unemployment numbers come November 2010. Try explaining a three percent increase in unemployment after you've run up the deficit by nearly two trillion dollars.
Speaking of the deficit, Crowley seems to think that massive health care reform can pass even if it adds to the deficit even more. That's pure fantasy. First, the only way for health care reform to pass is if the so called reconciliation rule is used. That can only happen if health care reform stays revenue neutral. Furthermore, Crowley appears totally tone deaf to what Americans are concerned about. The deficit is quickly becoming the biggest fear of Americans of the Obama administration. Crowley seems to think that we can add to it with a massive new health care policy with no political fallout.
On foreign policy, Crowley is equally naive.
Then there are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus far, Obama has been in crisis-management mode, trying to keep the government in Islamabad from falling apart and firing his top general in Afghanistan for poor management of the war effort there. But conditions may soon improve in both countries; the Pakistani military is finally cracking down on Islamic radicals. Meanwhile, Obama has ordered 21,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. But many analysts think that, much like the Iraq surge, the fight against the Taliban is eminently winnable if there are enough troops and the right counterinsurgency strategy is adopted.
The Pakistanis have supposedly been cracking down on militias many, many times in the last five years. None of them have amounted to much of anything. Yet, now, it's the real deal if you believe Crowley. Furthermore, we're going to turn a dire situation in Afghanistan into a winner through some cryptic counter insurgency strategy that many unnamed "experts" claim is available.
What's missing from Crowley's analysis is any mention of GITMO. That situation is such a mess that Crowley doesn't even pretend Obama will fix it.
Obviously, no one knows what will happen in the future. It's possible that this time next year there will be peace and prosperity everywhere. If it's so, Obama will get credit. However, if that were to happen, it will happen with a plan by the Obama administration that even his supporters don't know about.