The Incredible Shrinking Barack Obama

Published 9:44 am Thursday, August 4, 2011

No matter what consequences stem from the controversial debt limit ceiling deal, one thing is clear: We are now watching The Incredible Shrinking Barack Obama.

And here are four other facts. First, Barack Obama will go down in history along with Ronald Reagan as presiding over the New Deal’s and Great Society’s gradual dismantling.

Second, Obama’s mystique is evaporating almost as fast as his political clout (which is pretty fast).

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Third, Obama has enabled and rewarded a new political tactic as America moves into the 21st century: political hostage taking versus traditional American give-and-take political compromise.

Fourth, in all deference to Alexis de Tocqueville, the greatest danger to American democracy today is not “tyranny of the majority” but “tyranny of the minority.”

What’s Obama’s problem?

His style is often described as “leading from behind.” It’s akin to the tortoise and the hare story where slow and steady wins the race.

Obama usually grabs the middle position and appears the most reasonable. In another era that could be masterful.

But Obama is up against America’s talk radio political culture of sound bite cues given to the ideological faithful and virtual political threats given to Congress by powerful talk show hosts, bolstered by a sea of conservative old and new media pundits and conservative groups.

In this context, Obama loses the 24/7 narrative war, his image takes a beating and he seemingly fritters away his — and his party’s — clout.

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan now calls Obama a “loser.” Pundit Walter Shapiro laments the lack of political courage in the debt ceiling fight in Congress — and in the Oval Office. Michael “Wall Street Poet” Silverstein calls Obama “Pleader in Chief.” Others say Obama is “another Jimmy Carter.”

Actually, Obama is more like President Woodrow Wilson who was incapacitated by a stroke and powerlessly watched foes destroy his dream of a League of Nations.

Obama increasingly seems powerless as he watches foes destroy his vision of his Presidency and America.

But defenders still insist he is a master of the “long game.” Could they be right? Clearly, his 2012 priority is winning independent voters.

A new Gallup Poll finds 41 percent identifying themselves as conservatives, 36 percent as moderates, and 21 percent as liberals. If he can get moderate independents, moderate voters and enough liberals he has a strong coalition.

But he faces problems with his liberal base. Some liberals think Obama has been in more caves than Fred Flintstone. They feel he is so untrustworthy that he should have a Twofacebook page.

The White House reportedly believes liberals have no other place to go. And, indeed, another Gallup Poll shows Obama support is holding firm with liberals.

A Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll finds moderate and conservative Democrats are three times more likely than liberals to say they think less of Obama.

But the bottom line is this: Barack Obama’s mystique is gone — gone like pay phone booths on Main Street. He’s not compared to Lincoln, FDR, LBJ or Ronald Reagan. He is an “Obama” — and right now that isn’t a compliment.

So what next? Are most pundits wrong? Is Obama really making Machiavellian political moves in a canny, long-term chess game?

Or is what we see what we get?

Will this race between the tortoise and the hare end with the tortoise winding up in a (shrinking) bowl of tortoise soup?

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at