He's taking the usual slew of tactical hits as his opponents try every single line of attack and pound every day, squeezing every ounce of agitprop from the news cycle. His numbers are gliding downward (although not by much), his foreign policy gains are structural and have as yet no tangible results, a critical Mid-East ally, Israel, is doing all it can to destroy his credibility with the Muslim world, his health insurance reform is still not passed, the debt is simply staggering (and the GOP's willingness to blame it all on him is as shameless as it can be convincing to those who know nothing and think less), etc etc.
And yet I remain absurdly confident that he is on the right path. Why? This rare moment of Beltway perspective helps explain:
No pain, no gain? In a way, last week epitomized President Obama’s 10 months in office. There was lots of seemingly short-term pain members of Congress calling for his Treasury secretary to resign, more P.R. snafus over the stimulus, the chattering class criticizing his Asia trip, and his approval rating dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s poll.
But there also was long-term gain the Senate on Saturday moving one step closer to passing health-care reform and a growing economic consensus, via the New York Times, that the stimulus is working despite all the P.R. headaches it has caused. Indeed, this short-term pain/long-term gain for Team Obama occurred during the presidential campaign. For all the hits they took (Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko, “bitter,” the PUMAs, Bill Ayers, Landstuhl, even Joe the Plumber), they were always working toward the prize (270-plus electoral votes). And remember this: If you simply judged the last three months of the 2008 campaign by which campaign “won” the daily news cycle, McCain came out ahead. That’s perhaps the best example of the short-term/long-term.
I think Obama's handling of the economic crisis has been about as good as it reasonably gets; I think his handling of Iran is equally adroit; I find his relentless emphasis on reality in Afghanistan a good sign; I suspect the only way to get health insurance reform is the way he has attempted; I think the stimulus was necessary and sufficient; and I think unemployment will be coming down when he runs for re-election. On those issues I differ with him on - accountability for war crimes and civil rights - I can see the cool and cunning logic of his moves so far. The depth and complexity of the problems he faces remain immense. Perhaps he will prove incapable of surmounting them. But his persistence matters here. And we are not yet a year in.
He is strategy; his opponents are tacticians. And in my view, their tactics are consigning them to a longer political death than if they had taken a more constructive course. I could be wrong on all this, of course. History makes fools of us all. But this is my take as of now. And my relief at his being there remains profound.