If passage of the financial regulatory overhaul on Thursday proves anything about President Obama, it is this: He knows how to push big bills through a balky Congress.See also, Jennifer Rubin, "Gray Lady to Obama: You Sound Like George Bush on a Bad Day":
But Mr. Obama’s legislative success poses a paradox: while he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.
The financial regulatory bill is the final piece of a legislative hat trick that also included the stimulus bill and the landmark new health care law. Over the last 18 months, Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress have made considerable inroads in passing what could be the most ambitious agenda in decades.
Mr. Obama has done what he promised when he ran for office in 2008: he has used government as an instrument to try to narrow the gaps between the haves and the have-nots. He has injected $787 billion in tax dollars into the economy, provided health coverage to 32 million uninsured and now, reordered the relationship among Washington, Wall Street, investors and consumers.
But as he has done so, the political context has changed around him. Today, with unemployment remaining persistently near double digits despite the scale of the stimulus program and the BP oil spill having raised questions about his administration’s competence, Mr. Obama’s signature legislation is providing ammunition to conservatives who argue that government is the problem, not the solution.
What Mr. Obama and his allies portray as progressive, activist government has been framed by his opponents as overreaching and profligate when it comes to the economy.
Even before the November elections, the White House is being forced to recalibrate. This week, Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats decided to press ahead with a scaled-back energy bill, having concluded after months of gridlock that the sweeping measure they once envisioned simply would not pass. It is a tactic that the president will likely have to employ more and more after the November elections, when Democrats will almost certainly lose seats — and may even lose control of the House or Senate.
“They clearly made a decision that political capital was something that should be used, not saved,” said Steven Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who worked for years as a senior leadership aide on Capitol Hill. “The reality is, he talked before the election about what he wanted to do, and he’s done it. He didn’t trim his sails, he didn’t change his philosophy. He didn’t compromise. The test will come in the fall: can he and Democrats in Congress make the case to the American people that what he did was the right thing to do?”
We get a brutal assessment of Obama’s performance from none other than the New York Times, which tells its doubtlessly shell-shocked liberal readers that all those “wins” in Congress are really losses. (”While he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.”) Here’s a low blow:
You know, sometimes these pundits, they can’t figure me out,” the president said last week, campaigning in Kansas City, Mo., for the Democratic Senate candidate there. “They say, ‘Well, why is he doing that?’ That doesn’t poll well. Well, I’ve got my own pollsters, I know it doesn’t poll well. But it’s the right thing to do for America.”
It is an argument that sounds eerily similar to the one Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made to justify an unpopular war in Iraq as he watched his own poll numbers sink lower. Mr. Bush and his aides often felt they could not catch a break; when the economy was humming along — or at least seemed to be humming along — the Bush White House never got credit for it, because the public was so upset about the war.
The difference, however, is that Bush turned around the war. Obama has failed to do so on the economy and is now paying the price for his liberal joyride ...