Gates Effect


Might the president’s attempts to get health care legislation through congress be disrupted by the Olympic bid? Could it have a Gates Effect?

There has been a growing narrative taking hold about Barack Obama’s presidency in recent weeks: that he is loved by many, but feared by none; that he is full of lofty vision, but is actually achieving nothing with his grandiloquence.

When President Obama made the mistake of stepping into the matter of the Cambridge cop who was victimized by the racial profiling of Harvard Profiling Professor Skip Gates, he sent his bid for health care legislation into a tailspin as the nation’s attention became diffused.

Chicago’s dismal showing yesterday, after Mr Obama’s personal, impassioned last-minute pitch, is a stunning humiliation for this President. It cannot be emphasised enough how this will feed the perception that on the world stage he looks good — but carries no heft.

If you were a liberal member of Congress working to maneuver key ObamaCare proposals into law, wouldn’t you be scratching your head a bit and muttering, “you’re either with us or against us?”

Mr Obama was greeted — as usual — like a rock star by the IOC delegates in Copenhagen — then humiliated by them. Perception is reality. A narrow defeat for Chicago would have been acceptable — but the sheer scale of the defeat was a bombshell, and is a major blow for Mr Obama at a time when questions are being asked about his style of governance.

There is, after all, a reason that we don’t actually select rock stars to be president.

At home, it is difficult to turn on a television and not see Mr Obama giving a press conference, or an interview, or at a town hall rally, in his all-out effort to sell his troubled reform the US health insurance system. After three months of enormous exposure, Mr Obama has achieved this: the growing likelihood of ramming a Bill through Congress with — at most — just one Republican vote.

We hear often that Americans like Obama personally – it’s just his proposals we can’t stand. But what if the popularity number is phony – pumped up by respondents scared of being labeled a racist for voicing normal disapproval of the President? What if his personal popularity is actually dropping as fast as that of his policy ideas?

Abroad, Mr Obama promised in his Inauguration address to engage America’s enemies, and he has done just that. He has very little to show for it. Yes, Iran took part in bilateral talks with the US this week over its nuclear weapons programme — but that is something Tehran has wanted for years. There is still a very good chance that the meetings will prove to be an exercise in futility and a time-wasting ploy by Tehran.

The more the President speaks out in support of his health care plan, the worse it seems to poll. According to Rasmussen, 54%  of likely voters think health care reform is a must, but only 41% approve of the ObamaCare proposals. 48% approve of the job the President is doing overall.

This has all added to the perception that Mr Obama’s soaring rhetoric — which captured the imagination during last year’s election — is simply not enough when it comes to confronting the myriad challenges of the presidency. His spectacular Olympic failure will only add to that.

The Copenhagen trip reinforces the sense that Obama is more comfortable with the flash of campaigning than he is skilled at the challenges of leadership. Of course, this is his first time holding a leadership position of any significance, so a lowering of expectations is appropriate.


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