One of my favorite quotes about politics comes from Henry Kissinger in his book "Years of Upheaval," his memoir of the Ford presidency:
"A statesman's duty is to bridge the gap between his vision and his nation's experience. If his vision gets too far out ahead of his nation's experience, he will lose his mandate. But if he hues too close to the conventional, he will lose control over events."
Now, at once, we see both happening to President Obama.
His health care proposals obviously ran afoul of the first of Kissinger's warnings. By pushing for changes that conflicted with America's values, common sense and experience, he lost his mandate. In that disastrous push for an elusive goal, he ruined his own presidency and his party. It may take decades for the Democratic Party to recover from his folly. Indeed, his push for health legislation, in the face of rapidly eroding public support, ranks with the war in Vietnam, Watergate and, of course, Clinton's health care initiatives as the most costly to their respective political parties.
But now, as he faces threats from Iran, domestic terrorism, continually high unemployment and the swollen deficit, he is also violating the second half of the Kissinger warning -- his politics are too passive and too conventional and, as a result, he is losing control over events.
In the phase of presidential dithering in the aftermath of the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts, there is no clear presidential message, no coherent strategy and, even, no identifiable program. His budget cuts are far too tepid. His tax program nothing new. Obama's second stimulus package seems like the same old, same old.
His short-lived bounce from the State of the Union speech is indicative of how limited a vision he has these days. It lasted a week and was never more than three points at its apogee.
And, as Kissinger would have predicted, he is losing control over events. Sen. Evan Bayh's retirement, with its implied blast at Obama's policies, the increasing recklessness of Iran and the seemingly intractable unemployment all provide evidence that President Obama is no longer dictating the national agenda.