Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shine Comes Off the Penny

Last week the president realized that his Health Care Reform bill was stalling in Congress. Not only were Republicans balking over nationalized health care, but Blue Dog Democrats were expressing hesitation and concern about cost as well as feasibility; just how could we pay to insure every America while our national deficit just topped a trillion dollars the week before?

As he has done in the past, the president took his case to the airwaves, before the American people holding his fourth (fourth!) press conference since taking office in just over six months. Obama was emphatic and stridently determined; laying out a plan to make sure that not only would 47 million uninsured Americans (a “fuzzy math” stat, by the way) be covered, but also all Americans would have a choice under the government’s plan.

As usual, the president was long on rhetoric and short on specifics, with reporters tossing softball questions for him to expound upon. It was the lowest rated press conference so far. In fact, NBC had to be talked into carry his address; the Fox network completely passed.

Then, toward the end of the press conference, a reporter asked President Obama about the arrest by the Cambridge, Massachusetts police of his long-time friend, Harvard professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. The president said the police, “acted stupidly.”

With that one comment, the president inserted himself into a story that was about race and law enforcement in a city that has had a long history of strained race relations. Forget the particulars, the president became part of the story and suddenly, his message about health care and insuring every American faded into the back pages of newspapers and television coverage. Now the story was about the president calling into question the integrity and responsibility of the Cambridge Police Department.

When you step into the cow pasture, you are bound to step into a cow patty. I can only imagine as soon as the president walked back into the Oval Office after the press conference, his staff was not pleased. Now he would have to do something that presidents loathe to do: damage control and try to get the self-inflicted stink off of his shoe.

For the latter part of the week, the president has come close to apologizing about his remarks, but will not fully give a mea culpa for his stinging, personal words about a local matter that has ballooned into a national debate.

Barack Obama had been the master of the media. His oratory ability and calm assurance not only in front of the camera but the American people as well got him elected. Not this time. Not this past week.

A new Rasmussen poll indicates the president’s approval rating has dipped below 50 percent. This is lower than Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush’s poll numbers in their first six months of office.

I thought that Barack Obama’s first real enemy would be from an outside threat: North Korea, the ecomony cratering, or a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina. Instead, this past week Barack Obama has had to deal with another kind of enemy: himself.

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