Jonah Goldberg

Speaking of wiggle room, Clinton had the luxury of failure in 1995; Obama has the albatross of success. Because HillaryCare died without even a vote in Congress, Clinton had no major reform to defend. ObamaCare is the law. The president cannot tack to the center and defend his signature accomplishment at the same time. Or, to be more precise, the GOP won't let him.

Even if the GOP were inclined to give Obama breathing room, the left isn't. It's much stronger today than it was in 1995, and the activist core of today's Democratic Party sees itself as an antibody response to Clintonian triangulation. Pulling a Clinton would be seen as flat-out betrayal to Obama's biggest fans -- and to an unapologetic Pelosi, who has decided to shrug off the election results as someone else's problem.

And even if the left were to give Obama room to maneuver, there's little reason to believe Obama could sell a change of heart. Clinton was a creature of Arkansas, and Ozark politics are just a tad more conservative than Hyde Park politics. Clinton is not only endowed with a preternatural gift for faking sincerity, he also had deep experience working across the aisle. Obama's smooth path to the presidency offered far fewer opportunities for political introspection and the flexibility that comes with it.

Whatever the motivation, Obama's response to his predicament has been more Pelosian than Clintonian. There's been less apologizing and more faculty-lounge theorizing about voters too scared to know what's good for them. That doesn't suggest he's ready to reinvent himself.

By no means does this suggest that Obama has no path to re-election. But Clinton's map won't get him where he needs to go.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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