Clinton reaped great credit with independents and moderates for fashioning a third way between liberal demands for deficits and conservative cuts to Medicare. Obama’s attempts to portray himself as pushing a “balanced approach” proved laughable in view of his surrender at the end. And his deal-making to resolve the problem resembled a surrender far more than a compromise. He’s no Henry Clay.
Finally, while Clinton earned the respect of his party’s left wing by way of his confrontations with Newt Gingrich, Obama has garnered only contempt from his colleagues for his craven inability to prevail despite holding a formidable array of cards in his hand.
That House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) polled lower than Obama during the debt talks is scant comfort. Boehner is not running for president. When Clinton prevailed in 1996, it was against Bob Dole, who was not only the Senate majority leader but also his opponent for reelection. Clinton and Dole were, indeed, locked in a zero-sum game. But it does Obama no good if Boehner’s ratings drop.
Now Obama will have a devil of a time replenishing the enthusiasm that led his march to victory in 2008. He will instead meet with the same tepid support from his base that doomed Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992. His voters are discovering that there is no “there” there.
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