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Potomac's Postpartisan Depression - Mo Dowd, NY Times

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The media has begun to eat it own children. Ouch and ouch again!



Potomac's Postpartisan Depression

Maureen Dowd, NY Sunday Times 2/8/2009


Once upon a time, America thought Prince Charming would glide in and kiss her, reviving her from a coma induced by a poison apple of greed, deceit, carelessness, recklessness and overreaching.


But then the prince got distracted, seeing Lincoln in the mirror, and instead gave the kiss of life to a bunch of flat-lining Republican tax-cut fetishists.


Somehow the most well-known person on the planet lost control of the economic message to someone named Eric Cantor.


(And Larry Summers ended up making Henry Paulson seem riveting.)


In his first weeks padding around a White House that still has nails on the walls waiting for new pictures, and phone and e-mail kinks, Barack Obama could not locate the bully pulpit and ended up being bullied.


Republicans, pulled out of their existential lethargy and re-energized by the president's charm offensive, immediately mounted an offensive against him. Just as Michael Bloomberg learned the perils of cuddling a groundhog when it bit him, Mr. Obama learned the perils of coddling conservatives.


Pete Sessions, a conservative from Waco, Tex., and the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, warned that they could become an insurgency, having learned more about insurgencies "because of the Taliban." (Yes, that's the same Taliban that was allowed to regenerate by bumbling Republican leaders.)


Obama advisers are right to crow that the president's civility to Republicans will be popular with the public. But the carrot-stick ratio was way out of whack. Mr. Obama should have written up a kosher (as in pork-free) bill that Americans could trust - and Republicans couldn't as easily mock - and jammed it through.


It's a huge, scary moment, with trillions of dollars and millions of jobs flying out the window. Vice President Joseph Biden, in another Cassandra moment, told House Democrats that even if the White House does everything right, "there's still a 30 percent chance we'll get it wrong."


The president and his aides seemed a bit snow-blinded by the White House, overwhelmed and slow to understand that they were losing the high ground and the whip hand. They couldn't even get their pick for commerce secretary, the Republican Senator Judd Gregg, to vote for their stimulus bill; he said he would abstain.


Those in the president's circle were too caught up in more narrow concerns, like how their relationships with the president and the capital were shaking out; whether they could breathe on this new planet with the rarefied air of cool planes and helicopters; and whether W.'s mind-boggling mountain of garbage would trash Democratic candidates in 2010 and doom Mr. Obama to one term.


"I would rather do the right thing and have one term than be mediocre and have two," Mr. Obama told House Democrats at their Williamsburg retreat Thursday night. The lawmakers had been feeling disillusioned that they were carrying Mr. Obama's water on the bill, while Obama aides triangulated and promised that the bill would "improve" in the Senate.


Nancy Pelosi told her leadership team that she had told the president, "I don't mind you driving the bus over me, but I don't appreciate your backing it up and running over me again and again."


The Obama wizards' tactical skills seemed to desert them. The White House often ends up making its inhabitants tone-deaf (or even nuts), but this was an unusually quick trip into the cognitive third dimension.


Asked what he had learned from the Daschle fiasco, one Obama official replied, "Not to rationalize."


They knew that the choice of Tom Daschle conflicted with the Obama change message, but they preferred to focus on how much the president owed his friend and how good they thought he would be in the job.


They wanted him because he was the ultimate insider and they lost him because he was the ultimate insider. Now Daschle's punishment for getting too rich with special interests will be to get richer with special interests.


Obama aides call the morass a good wake-up call, and the president seems more aware of how the White House weather can cloud your thinking. Maybe that's why he keeps trying to pop out to get a breath of fresh air - at an elementary school, at the Kennedy Center, at Camp David.


On Friday, a reporter asked Robert Gibbs if the president was already feeling cooped up.


"He's a bit of a restless soul," Gibbs said, laughing. "His idea of a crazy day is to take a long walk."


A long walk where? somebody asked.

"In solitude and isolation," Gibbs replied.


President Obama doesn't need to leave his new home to be isolated. That's the specialty of the White House.

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