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Obama's Rough Patch

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 2009; 10:44 AM

His numbers are dropping. Public doubts are rising. He's mired in Washington gridlock. Lots of people are mad at him.

And none of this is surprising.

Barack Obama is having to engage in the audacity of compromise. And that was always going to disappoint some people, especially those who had unrealistically high expectations for his presidency.

Governing is a tough slog, even when your party controls everything that moves in Washington. It's slow, messy and frustrating, a far cry from the uplifting oratory that frames a campaign.

With the president's poll numbers dropping to either 63 percent (NYT/CBS) or 56 (NBC/WSJ), the pundits are racing to proclaim his honeymoon over. And compared with the is-he-FDR-or-Lincoln craziness of the inaugural period, it is.

To govern is to choose. Once Obama started making specific policy decisions, he was going to tick people off. And that process is taking place on steroids, given the huge agenda Obama is tackling on the economy, financial reform, health care, energy and a spate of other issues.

Some of these proposals are less popular than he is personally? What a shocker. The tax hikes and spending cuts that accompany his big-bucks proposals are going to squeeze plenty of people, and no wonder they're wary.

Let's see: Doctors and hospitals don't like his Medicare cutbacks. Big banks are opposing his financial regulations. Environmentalists don't like the Florida offshore oil drilling. Conservatives want him to embrace the Iranian protesters. Car dealers are outraged over GM and Chrysler shutting many of them down. Liberals are appalled that he has embraced some of the Bush national security policies. Gays are steamed that he is not obliterating don't-ask-don't-tell or the Defense of Marriage Act.

Welcome to the big leagues.

There is a tendency in the press, of course, to over-obsess on process, to overreact to each tactical setback. Remember all the back-and-forth over whether the stimulus package should be more than $787 billion? Of course you don't. It seems unimportant now, compared with the overarching question of whether unemployment will hit 11 percent and the economy will stabilize.

By year's end, Obama will either have delivered on health reform or he won't. His green-jobs energy package will be law or it won't. Presidents don't get everything they want, and the public is usually fuzzy on the fine print. What matters are the broad strokes.

Personally, Obama is still relatively popular. But he has to spend some of that popularity to get anything done. He'll ultimately be judged by what he accomplishes, not by picking brackets on ESPN, trading jokes with Leno or swatting flies on CNBC. Though that was pretty impressive.


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