Barack Obama began making his comeback Wednesday, apparently aware that he has all but lost control of the agenda in Washington at a time when he simply can't afford to do so. Obama's biggest problem isn't Taxgate—which resulted in the Terrible Tuesday departure of his trusted friend, Tom Daschle, and the defanging of his Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner. Nor is the No. 1 problem that the president can't seem to win a single Republican vote for his stimulus package. That's a symptom, not a cause. The reason Obama is getting so few votes is that he is no longer setting the terms of the debate over how to save the economy. Instead the Republican Party—the one we thought lost the election—is doing that. And the confusion and delay this is causing could realize Obama's worst fears, turning "crisis into a catastrophe," as the president said Wednesday.
Obama's desire to begin a "post-partisan" era may have backfired. In his eagerness to accommodate Republicans and listen to their ideas over the past week, he has allowed the GOP to turn the haggling over the stimulus package into a decidedly stale, Republican-style debate over pork, waste and overspending. This makes very little economic sense when you are in a major recession that only gets worse day by day. Yes, there are still some very legitimate issues with a bill that's supposed to be "temporary" and "targeted"—among them, large increases in permanent entitlement spending, and a paucity of tax cuts that will prompt immediate spending. Even so, Obama has allowed Congress to grow embroiled in nitpicking over efficiency when the central debate should be about whether the package is big enough. When you are dealing with a stimulus of this size, there are going to be wasteful expenditures and boondoggles. There's no way anyone can spend $800 to $900 billion quickly without waste and boondoggles. It comes with the Keynesian territory. This is an emergency; the normal rules do not apply.
Rude translation: Obama has been a pussy, and if he keeps behaving like a pussy, he's going to keep getting his ass kicked like a pussy.
This was Obama's pattern, which could easily be seen during the primaries: be passive, give airy speeches, construct "brilliant" master plans that go wrong, and then be rescued. Initially, he was rescued by the media in his battle against Hillary Clinton; then he was rescued by the economic collpase just when he was losing against McCain; and now it looks like the media people are coming to his rescue again by doing something they are ordinarily loathe to do: give a relatively honest appraisal of the state of our twisted, conservative-dominated discourse, as well as give a Democrat permission to do something other than bow and scrape. Eventually, these rescues are going to end.