WASHINGTON -- The political health of President Obama and his party can be summed up in one sentence: His legislative agenda is in shreds, his economic policies have failed, and Democratic prospects in the midterm elections are bleak at best.
The political events of the past two weeks have sent Obama and his party a message that they refused to hear for a long time and that some in the liberal Democratic base still refuse to accept.
It was a message that President Clinton and his advisers understood from the beginning: "It's the economy, stupid!" Obama finally seems to be acknowledging that as the White House has belatedly begun talking up "jobs" in the midst of 17 percent unemployment.
But down deep, he still seems to believe that the problem isn't his frayed agenda but the political mishandling of it.
He sent that message loud and clear when he brought his campaign manager David Plouffe into his inner White House circle within hours after Republican Scott Brown stunned Democratic leaders by winning Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. Scott won on a platform of killing the president's healthcare plan, reducing taxes, cutting spending and making sure that terrorist prisoners never see the inside of a civilian courtroom.
But by that time, Obama's agenda was either dead, dying or in a coma. Obamacare as formulated is dead, and a scaled-back version is at best in a stalemate, unless Democrats shove it through the Senate under a shady procedure ironically called "reconciliation." Nor will the climate-change cap-and-trade tax ever see the light of day.
His so-called job-creating stimulus program is a colossal failure, with a recent CNN poll showing that three out of four Americans think most of the money has been wasted. Nearly two-thirds say the projects were chosen solely for political reasons and had no economic benefit at all.
It is clear he has no viable Plan B, beyond another "stimulus" bill that is waiting in the wings and that will in turn waste still more money.
Political gunslinger Plouffe, meanwhile, may be good at what he does -- playing politics with both guns blazing -- but Obama's problem isn't politics; it's policy. Americans do not like his proposals to put government in charge of their health care. They do not want to pay an energy tax every time they flip a light switch. And they do not think jobs can be created from Washington by spending nearly $1 trillion on pork-barrel projects for favored political interests.
Plouffe demonstrated his policymaking ignorance in a recent Washington Post op-ed column when he came to the subject of jobs.
"Even without a difficult fiscal situation, the government can have only so much direct impact on job creation, on top of the millions of jobs created by the president's early efforts to restart the economy," he said.
In fact, government can have a huge impact on jobs through consistent policies that create an economic climate for capital formation, investment, risk-taking and incentives for work and wealth creation. He need only look to the Ronald Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s or even the capital-gains tax cuts that Bill Clinton instituted to see how this works.
Plouffe also offered ideas such as "green jobs" by dumping more money into pie-in-the-sky climate-change spending, but in the end he threw up his hands and said that "full recovery will happen only when the private sector begins hiring in earnest." No kidding? So why not give the private sector the tax-cut incentives to do that, instead of more borrowing and spending.
The jobless economy, he insisted, is not Obama's fault. "The recovery act has been stigmatized," he complained. Yeah, by double-digit unemployment and the job-killing fear among Main Street businesses that they are going to be taxed more than they are now under Obama's agenda.
Plouffe was also brought in to take control of the campaign committees and to repackage Obama and his message, but a political wave has been building over the past year that threatens to engulf the Democrats in the midterm elections. And it appears to have accelerated in recent weeks.
In the Senate, independent election forecasters now say Republicans are poised to win at least four more Democratic seats in Arkansas, North Dakota, Delaware and Nevada where Majority Leader Harry Reid is toast. At least three more of the party's seats are tossups: Illinois, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Right now, Democrats are facing at least a half-dozen losses in the Senate, and that could run higher if unemployment remains in the 9 percent to 10 percent range this fall (which Fed economists are still predicting).
In the House, the bleak political environment is already sending more Democrats into retirement, the latest being Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas -- the fifth Democrat to call it quits in the past few months. More retirements are expected.
Heading into this year, House Democrats were looking at potential losses of between 20 to 30 seats. Now some analysts are saying that it is possible they could lose their majority.
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