Health care debate confirms this is not the Barack Obama we elected
Wednesday, August 19th 2009, 4:00 AM
Taking the stage for a town hall meeting on health care the other day, President Obama emerged from behind a curtain in a fake jog. He pumped his arms in an exaggerated fashion, but his smile looked forced as he waved and shook hands with a few audience members.
It all seemed a campaign ritual, dulled by time and beleaguered by circumstance, prompting a flashback in my head to the Paul Simon song about Joe DiMaggio.
Where have you gone, Barack Obama? Where is the sunny-side-up young man who promised to inspire and unite an unhappy nation?
Gone into the partisan sinkhole of Washington, that's where. Like some novice swimmer too confident of his own ability, Obama is suddenly finding himself in water over his head.
His flailing, including a foul habit of demonizing dissent, is not pretty. And that brief foray into e-mail tracking of critics showed a win-at-any-cost side.
Where is the appealing man we elected? Where is that Barack Obama?
Let's find him quick because the whole nation is paying the price for this impostor's irrational exuberance. Or hubris.
Americans, more of them every day, are growing disenchanted with the expansion of government and the massive pile of debt. Yet the President, certain he can change their minds if only he talks to them again, keeps trying to sell bigger as better.
The public's not buying it. And as a measure of the nation's mood, a recent poll was practically cruel: Nearly half think the President is on television too much. Ouch.
Obama fatigue occasionally surfaced during the campaign, but this is different. He's the President, and if the country tunes him out, there is no Plan B. He's the rock star-turned-salesman, and everything in his administration depends on his stage act.
That the novelty is wearing thin is obvious. The danger is that the health care fiasco turns him into an unpopular and ineffective President.
Those who say it can't happen should study a recent New York Times/CBS poll. Among the lowlights:
* Sixty-nine percent believe Obamacare will hurt the quality of their own health care.
* Seventy-three percent believe they will have less access to tests and treatment.
* Sixty-two percent believe Democrats' proposals would force them to change doctors.
* Seventy-six percent believe Obama's changes will mean higher taxes for them.
* Seventy-seven percent expect their health care costs to rise.
All those findings run counter to the claims Obama makes. Even as he talks in vague ways about what exactly he favors, he promises the bill that emerges from Congress' sausage factory will be a magic elixir.
Writing in The New York Times, he guaranteed everything for everyone: "If you don't have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need.
"If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan."
Those claims would be credible if they were a multiple-choice question, where only one is true. To say they can all happen at once is a crock, and the country knows it.
Heck, throw in a free puppy for everybody, too.
With stubborn wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an economy still bleeding, you'd think a new President would have challenges enough. Yet Obama has plunged into the health care mess as though it is a battle of absolute necessity.
It isn't. It is his choice. And it is a mistake.
If he's the man we thought he was, he'll now choose to make peace, before the country concludes he's the mistake.