Rule of Thumb #1 for President Obama: When Howard Fineman starts looking fondly back to the Reagan administration, you know you’re in trouble.
Members of Obama’s own party know who Obama is not; they still sometimes wonder who he really is. In Washington, the appearance of uncertainty is taken as weakness—especially on Capitol Hill, where a president is only as revered as he is feared. Being the cool, convivial late-night-guest in chief won’t cut it with Congress, an institution impervious to charm (especially the charm of a president with wavering poll numbers). Members of both parties are taking Obama’s measure with their defiant and sometimes hostile response to his desires on health care. Never much of a legislator (and not long a senator), Obama underestimated the complexity of enacting a major “reform” bill. Letting Congress try to write it on its own was an awful idea. As a balkanized land of microfiefdoms, each loyal to its own lobbyists and consultants, Congress is incapable of being led by its “leadership.” It’s not like Chicago, where you call a guy who calls a guy who calls Daley, who makes the call. The president himself must make his wishes clear—along with the consequences for those who fail to grant them.
The model is a man whose political effectiveness Obama repeatedly says he admires: Ronald Reagan. There was never doubt about what he wanted. The Gipper made his simple, dramatic tax cuts the centerpiece not only of his campaign but also of the entire first year of his presidency.