In other words, accept some GOP ideas that will win the support of the Republicans or offer a campaign-driven plan that will appeal to his party's disenchanted left but stands little or no chance of passing a divided Congress. Either way, this is a confused administration that has not just lost its way -- it doesn't have a compass.
American voters intuitively sense this. The Gallup Poll reported Tuesday that only 38 percent of the voters surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing. A 55 percent majority now disapprove of his presidency.
Let's be very clear who is to blame for this mess. It isn't President George W. Bush. It isn't ATM machines taking away bank teller jobs, as Obama suggested earlier this summer, along with a rash of other excuses. It isn't Wall Street, where stocks have been pounded over the course of the past three years. It's Obama's policies that have made the economy weaker, smaller and more vulnerable to years of decline.
"Jobs creation remains weak, because temporary tax cuts, stimulus spending, large federal deficits, price raising health care mandates, and tighter but ineffective business regulations do not address, and indeed exacerbate, the permanent structural problems holding back dynamic growth and jobs creation," writes University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici. "Until this policy direction is altered, the economy will continue to grow slowly or slip into recession, unemployment will rise, living standards will fall, and American standing in the global economy will decline," Morici says.
What we're seeing, he adds, is "An American policy of decline by design."
Obama came into office full of promises, with a bag packed with dubious remedies that were based on the liberal notion we could just spend and tax ourselves into prosperity. But after nearly three years of promises, Obama has failed to deliver and has lost his credibility. A Pew Research Center poll reports that nearly half of all Americans surveyed do not believe he is a strong leader, while 50 percent do not think he can get things done.
That inability to move an agenda was driven home this past week when it was reported that the three trade export deals negotiated by Bush that Obama has been urging Congress to pass were never officially sent to Capitol Hill. Instead, he's been on the campaign trail, blaming the Republicans for holding up the trade agreements, when there is strong GOP support for all three.
Since the failure of his $800 billion jobs stimulus plan, Obama has been hoping that either the economy would heal itself, or that the Federal Reserve would come to his rescue. But Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke put that notion to rest last week at a conference of central bankers and economists at Jackson Hole, Wyo.
"Most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank," he said. In other words, that job rests with Congress, where GOP leaders have prepared a sweeping plan to cut tax rates, reduce job-killing regulations, and unleash an aggressive trade policy to "sell American goods and services around the world."
It's hard to see their plan passing the Democrat-run Senate in this election cycle. But if not, that will give Republicans the chance to ask the voters, who's really playing politics with the economy?