Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Two impressions emerge from President Barack Obama's first week in office:

Partisanship has reached a tipping point when the new president is circling the fire hydrant with a conservative talk-radio personality.

And, the new president is sounding an awful lot like the old one.

Let's roll the tape.

"I won. I will trump you on that."

That's Barack Obama a few days ago, according to The Associated Press, speaking to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona during a meeting with congressional leaders about the proposed stimulus package. Kyl had the audacity to question giving tax credits to people who do not owe federal income taxes.

Rewinding to 2004: "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style."

That's George W. Bush after his re-election, explaining his assumption that the American people approved of his many plans, including Social Security reform and the war on terror.

Obama and Bush each mistakenly assumed that his election was a national mandate for his policies, rather than a rejection of alternatives. Bush was re-elected primarily because his opponent was weak and because Americans typically don't like to switch presidents mid-war.

Obama benefited similarly when his opponent temporarily forgot who he was and, most important, the economy collapsed. Still, 46 percent of Americans voted for John McCain and 48 percent voted in 2004 for John Kerry.

If Obama had a mandate at all, it was to heal the divisions that have plagued politics for so long. No more partisan bickering, he promised, though there's only about a smirk's difference between Obama and Bush, stylistically. While one is bring-'em-on confrontational and the other a passive-aggressive Mr. Cool, both reveal a staggering sense of personal empowerment.

Obama was cool even when, at that same GOP meeting, he urged Republicans to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh. No anger, just angst. "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."

Excuse me, Mr. President, but you've been baited by none other than the Master Fisherman. Limbaugh tossed you a lure and you chomped.

Rules:

Never start a land war with Asia. Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel (or who owns the patent on the microchip). Never let rabble-rousers get under your skin -- especially those whose popularity in some circles compares favorably with your own and whose earnings make bailed-out bank presidents envious.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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