"Very active." That's what White House aides say Barack Obama is going to be this month. That's probably an understatement. Obama faces September deadlines on three issues, on each of which he could get himself in political trouble, not only with those on the right and center but also those on the political left.
Only one of those issues is domestic: health care. Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, scheduled rather hastily for Wednesday night, gives him a chance to turn around public opinion, which has been going against his policies, and to generate something like the enthusiasm his candidacy created last year.
But he faces a binary choice: The president must either insist on a "government option" insurance plan or must let it be known that he will sign a bill without one. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House won't pass a bill without the government option, and leftist Progressive Caucus members threaten to withhold their votes from any such bill. But Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad says a government option bill can't pass the Senate.
Sooner or later the old politician's dodge -- "some of my friends are for the bill and some of my friends are against the bill, and I'm always with my friends" – won't wash. As a practical matter, Obama will surely sign a bill without the government option, and the Progressive Caucus most likely can be whipped into line by Pelosi. But the always angry left will become even more angry at their leader when these realities are acknowledged.
Obama may also face a binary choice on Afghanistan. Reading between the lines of stories on Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendations, it seems likely that the White House has been pressuring him not to ask for more troops and that he will do so anyway, and with the approval of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Obama, having already dispatched more troops there, will be asked to double down on a policy that public opinion polls show is unpopular with Democratic voters -- and with some conservatives, like columnist George Will, as well.
Obama is averse to using the V-word (victory) and the American left since the Vietnam years has not wanted to see America victorious in war. They think it makes us look chauvinistic and proud about our nation when we should be, as Obama often has been, apologetic for its sins. But accepting a recommendation for more troops would set him on a course where victory is the only acceptable result, which will make the angry left angry at him.