Third strike and you're out?
President Barack Obama has now caved to shortsightedness three times: He reluctantly agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the well-to-do in December; an hour before a government shutdown, he agreed to what he called the deepest spending cuts in U.S. budget history; in August he avoided a government default by agreeing to massive spending cuts and no revenue increases.
He has built a huge war chest for his re-election campaign in 2012, but many are increasingly wondering if while Obama has been honing his skills at compromise he has become irrelevant in the governing process.
I'm one of those who thought Obama made a huge mistake in not endorsing the plan to get a handle on our huge national deficit — and $14 trillion debt — proposed by the bipartisan Erskine Bowles (Democrat)-Alan Simpson (Republican) debt commission. Yes, it would have been painful medicine, but it was a much more carefully thought-out prescription and much fairer than the August agreement that kicks the can down the road.
True, Obama came into office at a perilous time in history as Wall Street did its best to kill our economy. He dealt with it using the best and quickest tools he had. But the White House made a terrible mistake in promising his actions would bring the unemployment rate down to 8 percent. Ha!
The vision of a second Camelot has turned to a mirage. Obama has seemed more like a Carter milquetoast than a take-charge Kennedy. He is neither beloved as Ronald Reagan was on the right or feared as Lyndon Johnson was on the left. The rise of the tea party, which has scorned all the rules on Capitol Hill, has made a mockery of Obama's intellectual, let's-all-get-along style of governing.
The crop of Republicans in the presidential race so far is disappointing. The only candidate who accepted the eleventh-hour agreement to avoid a catastrophic government default was Jon Huntsman, who has yet to catch the public's attention.
Current front-runner Mitt Romney's avoidance of the shutdown issue until after the mess congealed on the floor is appalling. Where is the vaunted business sense that saved the Utah Olympics? All he does is attack Obama ad hominem; he seems bereft of rational ideas to rev up the economy.
The sad truth is that no U.S. president has much control over job creation. That mysterious process involves business and consumer confidence, now very low. Obama came into office handling the bully-pulpit part of the job well. But people have tired of listening to him promise that infrastructure, Pell grants and American-made batteries will save the day when he had trouble persuading Congress to keep 70,000 construction workers and 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees from being laid off.
So he is going on a listening tour of America. We'll see how well that works out for him. A few days of hearing what the people really think, and his ears will be ringing.
The global economy changed while our country became demoralized. We have yet to see anybody on the scene able to make us snap out of it with concrete solutions, the ability to reason with tea partiers and able to induce love in supporters and fear in opponents.
Obama has become a caretaker in the White House, trying to keep the roof from leaking and the walls from crumbling. His performance in the past six months has not earned him re-election.
The good news for him is that we have a short attention span and 15 months remain before we vote. If Obama shows himself willing and able to tame the chaos in Washington, inspire the electorate, demonstrate the phoniness of opponents' economic arguments, become, again, a force for good on the international stage and perhaps enjoy a run of good luck, he may be given another chance.
In Las Vegas, the odds are 50-50.
© 2011 Scripps Howard News Service