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Ken Blackwell / Mar. 19, 2010

A Ticking Clock

Fred Hiatt, a columnist for the Washington Post, speaks for many Washington insiders. He published an interesting column on Monday, March 15.

Hiatt thinks President Obama is unhappy in his job. “We’d slam him if he acted carefree,” Hiatt says, but Americans want their President to relish the challenge of the Oval Office. Indeed we do.

Predictably, Hiatt points to FDR and JFK as happy warriors, political leaders who reveled in being on top (and probably enjoyed as much keeping their opponents off-balance). We loved the “jaunty” demeanor of those two, he writes.

I would point to Ronald Reagan as a man who seemed not to be over-taxed by the “great burden” of the Presidency. Reagan used to joke “I know hard work never killed a man, but why take a chance?” He famously nodded off in Cabinet meetings. The media had a field day with that.

Reagan disarmed critics his humor. He said if enemy jets ever threatened to shoot down one of ours, he had left strict instructions that he was to be awakened—even if he was in a Cabinet meeting. Few of those reporters who were convinced that Reagan was lazy could have spent an hour with him clearing brush on his California ranch. Secret Service Agent John Barletta records that the President was always the last to call for a rest break or for water while putting in hard physical labor on his ranch.

But Americans are most concerned about policy outcomes. They don’t care if the President plays golf—like Taft and Ike did. Or goes sailing, like FDR and JFK did. What they expect is results.

If Reaganomics had failed, it would not have mattered how buoyant was his mood or how hardy he was in laboring on his ranch. He would have been a one-termer.

Jimmy Carter comes to mind. When he ran for President, the cartoonists all focused on his iridescent smile. His teeth—like those of Teddy Roosevelt—became his most outstanding quality. Carter’s smile dazzled—even as his hapless opponents wilted.

Once in office, however, Carter’s smile seemed to disappear. He looked more and more frazzled, more beset by crises. The cares of office seemed to take their toll early. Within a short period, Carter’s lips became his most cartoonable feature, and they were not smiling.

In his column, Hiatt zeroes in on the ticking of the lighthouse clock on the wall in the White House library. He was relating the People Magazine story about the President’s first interview of the New Year. Do Americans really want to hear the tick of that old clock, Hiatt asks.

Actually, a lot of us really do want to hear that clock ticking away. Our Presidents get four years or, if they win our confidence, eight years to make a lasting record. Obama the candidate recognized that Reagan was a “transformative” President in a way that Nixon and Clinton were not.

That got him in a certain amount of hot water with the Clintons, but it signaled to liberal donors and activists: “I will be your Reagan.” He set a high standard for himself. He wanted to be a consequential President, not just to hold high office. That much, certainly, is laudable.

So why is he described by Hiatt as “lugubrious.” Why the long face? It may be that he understands that the ticking clock is against him. Even if he wins on health care this week, the victory will be ashes in his mouth and he seems to know it.

The American people clearly do not want this. Nearly half of American doctors say they will think about getting out of medicine if ObamaCare passes. Next up is his Cap and Trade bill. He’ll be expected to deliver on that if he wins on health care. After the ClimateGate scandal and the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, as well as the stubborn refusal of the planet to continue warming on schedule, any moves he makes in this direction will be job killers. His plan will be more unpopular than ObamaCare.

What about jobs? Don’t hold your breath. No, wait, do hold your breath. That’s because Obama’s EPA just issued an “endangerment” finding on carbon dioxide. So, when we exhale, we are polluting. Or so the Obama administration says.

Then, there’s the foreign scene. Iran is moving toward getting the bomb, Russia and China are not interested in serious sanctions, and Obama has deliberately picked a fight with Israel. Oh, and our 70-year “special relationship” with Britain. As Dickens said of Scrooge’s partner, Marley, it’s dead. “Dead as a doornail.”

President Obama may have dropped a heavy hint in a one-year wrap-up interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer: “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”

We have only one of those outstanding one-termers: Abraham Lincoln. And Lincoln sought and received a powerful mandate from the American people in 1864.

Who wouldn’t wish to be a really good one-termer? His “mediocre two-termer” shot was seen as a knock on George W. Bush. But he left unsaid the possibility of winding up a mediocre one-term President. That’s enough to make him or anyone sad.

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