Obama's Political Dance

Can president appease base for re-election?


Republicans obsessing about their lack of a new political superstar to lead them against the vaunted Barack Obama next year seem not to have noticed something. This President is in as full a political retreat as this town has seen in many years.

He was elected to fix the economy but people think he and his party have failed and exploded the nation's debt in the process. His poll numbers are abysmal on both counts. Moreover, his political base is cranky about the war in Afghanistan, unhappy that he failed to end the Bush tax cuts and worried now that he may be willing to cut spending significantly to win an increase in the debt ceiling.

Mr. Obama knows he must stir his base to have any hope of re-election, but he knows also that if the independents who backed him in 2008 and deserted him and his party last fall don't come back, his base won't be enough.

So even as he gave ground on spending and debt in the negotiations with congressional Republicans, he talked tough about taxing the rich in that White House news conference last week. But by today, he was sounding conciliatory again and confident of a deal. And he said he's against kicking the issue down the road, but he's the same guy who only weeks ago wanted the debt ceiling increased with no action on spending.

He's like a man who took two dates to the prom and is trying to keep them both happy. He may not pull it off, but he's dancing as fast as he can.