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November 23, 2013

Obama: A President in retreat

(Continued)

“(J)ust as ambition and realpolitik had characterized his congressional career and early White House years,” Clarke wrote, “morality and emotion tempered his ambitions during his last hundred days.”

Obama has conquered the morality part, though many Republicans believe his health care overhaul is at base immoral, or at least a departure from the American free-marketplace heritage. As for the emotion part, it’s the Democrats who find him wanting. They wonder what happened to the brave words and the intuitive, charged connection with Americans of all ages and races that marked his 2008 campaign and have been elusive since his inauguration.

His battle to preserve his health care initiative, which extended into the government shutdown of this autumn, is where he stuck his emotional sword in the ground. He knew that protecting Obamacare was in effect preserving the Obama legacy, and he was prepared to fight for it.

For generations, every graduate of the elite French military academy at Saint-Cyr was familiar with this doctrine of Napoleon: Give me six hours’ control of the Strait of Dover, and I will gain mastery of the world. Obama sensed the contemporary domestic analogue: Give the GOP rebels control of the health care debate and they will gain mastery of American politics for the rest of the Obama years.

And then, fresh from his triumph in the shutdown showdown, everything collapsed. It became impossible to repress this question, or to answer it:

If the political figure who used the Internet with brilliant efficiency and to remarkable effect couldn’t produce a simple website to perform what the president said was a simple procedure, then how would Washington handle the more difficult task of insuring good care for the sick when lives were at stake?

The website became the Strait of Dover of American domestic politics, and Obama and his forces have been retreating back into the white cliffs of failure for nearly a month. Despite the president’s remarks Tuesday about rebranding the effort, they are still there.

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