Memo to the president — please remove that “kick-me” sign

As we noted below, President Obama today lost two high-level presidential nominees due to tax problems. He had already lost another, Bill Richardson, due to a corruption investigation. And, though Obama didn’t lose him, Tim Geithner, his choice for Treasury Secretary, also failed properly to pay his taxes.

This is a rocky start indeed, but not one that’s likely to hurt Obama much. The withdrawn nominees will quickly be forgotten. And if economic recovery occurs within a year or two, Geithner’s transgressions won’t count for much either. If the economy doesn’t recover soon enough, Geithner’s transgressions will be the least of Obama’s worries.

But Obama may soon face a more ominous problem than any perception of incompetence arising from the botched nominations — the perception of weakness. Events have conspired to make economic stimulus legislation the first major substantive issue Obama faces as president, and it’s obviously a critical one. So far, it is painfully apparent (1) that the congressional Democrats, not the president, are in control of this issue and (2) that congressional Democrats are running amok. Obama is reduced to pleading with the Dems to show restraint, while trying to induce Republicans to provide him cover by signing on to the boondoggle. His failure (so far) to succeed with Dems ensures his failure to succeed with Republicans. And Obama cannot play the “I won” trump card with the Democrats. They also won, and thus feel entitled to the spoils.

Obama also faces a substantial risk of appearing weak in the realm of foreign policy. That risk is self-created. In his efforts to stay to the left of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries, Obama basically put a kick-me sign on his back-side. He did this most notably by promising to negotiate, without pre-conditions, with the world’s most odious and hostile regimes.

Now, some of these regimes are kicking Obama. He has already been subjected to ridicule and scorn by the likes of Hugo Chavez. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is, as John showed, “beating Obama like a drum.” Obama brought this on in part through his misguided criticisms of America’s policies toward Muslim countries, broadcast throughout the Arab world in his interview with the al Arabiya television network.

Most recently, as John reported today, rumors are circulating that Obama “has been receiving and sending feelers to those close to al Qaeda on whether the group would [be willing to] end its terrorist campaign against the United States” in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Obama is not responsible for these rumors, but his own campaign rhetoric and posture may prevent the rumors from being dismissed out-of-hand, as they would have been had the subject been George W. Bush or John McCain.

Jimmy Carter didn’t become Jimmy Carter because of the Bert Lance scandal. He became Jimmy Carter because he was perceived, in the words of that rogue Boston Globe headline writer, as a “wimp.” President Obama is a long way from being perceived that way, but he seems headed in that direction.

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