On his own terms, President Obama is a failure.
During the presidential campaign, he fought hammer and tongs with Hillary Clinton over the best way to govern. Clinton, casting herself as a battle-scarred political veteran, argued that diligence, dedicated detail work and working the system were essential for success.
Obama, donning the mantle of a redeemer descending from divine heights, argued that his soaring rhetoric was more than "just words"; it was a way out of the poisonous, partisan gridlock of yesteryear. Early on, in New Hampshire, he proclaimed that his "rival in this race is not other candidates. It's cynicism."
Occasionally the Obama-Clinton argument was explicit (such as when they sparred over who was more important to the Civil Rights Act -- Martin Luther King Jr. or Lyndon Johnson), but it was always there, implicit in everything from their body language and stagecraft to position papers and platforms.
The great irony of it all is that it seems they were both wrong.
Obama's rhetoric in fact looks to be the best way to achieve a Clintonian agenda. But a Clintonian agenda is the worst possible way to live up to Obama's rhetoric.
From his 2004 DNC keynote speech onward, Obama rejected the partisan divide. He earned points by insisting that invidious descriptions of political opponents were deleterious to civic health and distracted us from the fact that "we are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."
In a speech following a June primary victory, Obama said he was "absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children ... this was the moment -- this was the time -- when we came together to remake this great nation."
So, does anyone feel like Americans are coming together?
Obama the outsider hasn't changed the way Washington works; he's worked Washington in a way that only an outsider with no respect for the place would dare.
Consider his signature domestic priority: health care reform. After a year of working on it, his progressive base is either profoundly disappointed with him or seethingly angry. His Republican and conservative opponents are not only furious, they are emboldened. And independents -- who've been deserting the Democrats in polls and off-year elections -- are simply disgusted with the whole spectacle. Most important, an administration that once preened over its people-power roots can't even claim that Americans like what he's doing.
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