State

Wake-up for Obama: You're a mere mortal

Perhaps it is the spirit of the season, but my empathy receptors are in overdrive for poor Barack Obama. All he wanted for Christmas was a health care reform bill -- and all he got was a lousy insurance industry bailout that few can love.

Lefties hate it because there's no public option and no Medicare buy-in for those 55 and over. Righties hate it because mandating that Americans buy private insurance or face penalties means taxpayers will have to hand over more of their hard-earned dollars (assuming they have a job) to the government.

Obama, in other words, is having a Harriet Miers moment. Or rather, he's having a George W. Bush moment. When Bush nominated the in-over-her-head Miers to the Supreme Court, his fan base turned on him. As one ardent Bush supporter told me at the time: "It was in that moment that I realized he really might not know what he's doing." And so things seem to have turned for Obama. Left-leaning Democrats suddenly are wondering: Who is this guy? What happened to the liberal dream-maker who was going to provide health care to every person in the country while hand-feeding grateful polar bears basking on vast new expanses of restored sea ice?

Obama didn't so much move to the center as he just stood there and let others craft his seminal legislation.

As a result, he's had trouble closing the deal.

The rabble from Democrats must be deeply rousing for Republicans exhausted by their own circular firing squad. Republicans now need only get out of the way an let leaders on the left form their own death panels to take aim on each other over health care reform.

"Kill it," said Howard Dean. "Kill it," said Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. "Kill this monstrosity," said Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos Web site.

Meanwhile, Obama's poll numbers continue to tumble.

Suddenly, the entire organism known as "Obama" seems endangered, not to mention all those Democrats up for re-election in 10 short months. Those looking for a scapegoat have pointed to Joe Lieberman for weakening the Senate bill.

But the health care rift is only a symptom of a more serious disease afflicting this administration. It isn't so much hubris, though that is part of the problem. It isn't even narcissism, primarily. Obama's fever is grandiosity -- an inflated self-confidence and a sense of power exceeding one's means.

Most politicians suffer some degree of grandiosity, or else they'd never run for office. But Obama's is of a higher order, in part owing to a worshipful world (see Berlin) and a confluence of urgent events.

Cutting the man some slack, no one could pull off what he has attempted to manage -- two wars, a crashing global economy, climate change, health care, energy and unemployment. The scope of such challenges is what prompted man once upon a time to invent deities.

Obama, a mere mortal, is having to invent himself, learning a painful executive lesson in the process: One cannot be all things to all people, nor is it possible to do several things at once effectively.

The growing sense is that Obama is desperate -- in this case, for any kind of health reform. Thus, the man who was going to remain above the political fray has revealed himself as pluperfectly political, ready to settle for the very kind of mandate (without the public option) that he opposed as a candidate challenging Hillary Clinton.

Rather than inspiring confidence, he has inspired a groundswell of disapproval and a populist uprising that may allow Republicans to clean the House come next November.

In the meantime, left and right finally have discovered a common foe. Too bad for the country that his name is Obama.

Parker's e-mail address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

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