Teacher Barack Obama could be a one-term President
Barack Obama's health care summit was a sham and a failure, argues Toby Harnden in Washington, and the President could be heading for defeat in 2012
Toby Harnden's American Way Telegraph
Published: 4:54PM GMT 27 Feb 2010
Barack Obama was in his element as he addressed the bipartisan health-care summit he had convened for the principal purpose of shaming the recalcitrant Republicans.
His preferred lectern had been taken away and he had been forced to agree to remain seated but it was nevertheless a cherished opportunity for him to scold, patronise and peevishly disdain his opponents – and to pontificate for nearly six hours.
To be fair, Obama spoke for a mere 119 minutes, as opposed to the 110 minutes he deigned to allocate to the Republicans and the 114 minutes he gave to his fellow Democrats. When challenged about the two-to-one imbalance between the parties, Mr Obama shot back: "I'm the President."
Again and again, he put Republicans down with sarcastic asides, berating them like naughty schoolboys for bringing in a copy of the 2,400-page Senate health bill as a "prop" and informing them of the need to "get our facts straight".
The televised event, dreamt up by the White House to create the desired "atmospherics" for an attempt to push his health-care bill through Congress by Easter, underlined the reality that Obama is not a leader or even really a politician – he is a professor.
Professor Obama is convinced of his own intellectual superiority. When his pupils fail to realise that he knows what is good for them, he simply repeats himself in the expectation that the simpletons will eventually understand.
As the astute psephologist Michael Barone has pointed out, Obama can be understood in large part by reflecting on where he spent his adult life before arriving at the White House – Los Angeles, New York, Cambridge and Chicago.
For almost three decades, he lived in liberal campus communities where he was insulated from the real world by comfortable consensus and shared assumptions.
Now that Obama inhabits the self-reinforcing cocoon of the White House, this background has become a dangerous liability – and could spell disaster for Democrats in the November midterm elections.
Although Obama graced the health-care summit with his characteristic silky eloquence, the event was both a sham and a failure.
A sham because it wasn't a genuine stab at brokering a compromise between Democrats and Republicans but an attempt to portray Republicans as the block to "progress". A failure because Republicans defied expectations by presenting measured philosophical objections to the bill and outlining sensible alternative approaches.
Obama is becoming something of a victim of his own oratorical success.
The more he talks, the less people listen. We have heard so much from him that his words carry less and less weight. It is the law of diminishing returns.
And for all the reasonableness of what he had to say and the familiar high-minded calls to rise above politics, everyone knew that Obama had already decided to embark on the ironically-named process of "reconciliation" to force the health-care bill through.
Under reconciliation, bare majorities in both chambers can be used to secure passage of legislation – essentially the same legislation that even voters in liberal Massachusetts rejected in last month's special election for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.
This is a lose-lose route for Obama. First, it's highly questionable whether he can secure the majorities he needs. With 59 Democratic votes in the Senate and only 51 required, he could be on solid ground. But in the House of Representatives, where conservative Democrats fear a bloodbath in November, it is likely to be a very different story.
Second, if he does prevail on Congress to do his bidding, he'll essentially have resorted to using a legislative loophole to force through something that most Americans oppose – and this from the man who vowed to banish cynicism from the conduct of politics.
He can't seem to grasp that voters don't want an expansion of government to cover health care. It's not a failure to understand the professor but a disagreement with the fundamentals of the lesson he's dictating.
The most amusing political intervention of last week was from former president Jimmy Carter, who indignantly rejected the increasingly common charge that Obama is "as bad as Carter".
On only one occasion since 1896 has a party lost the White House after just four years. That was when Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Startlingly, America's first black President and the man hailed a little over a year ago as the hope of a generation, is beginning to look like he could follow suit in 2012.