Too soon to fail

Chris Stirewalt, writing in the Examiner, argues that in fighting for health care reform, President Obama is really fighting for the survival of his presidency. According to Stirewalt:

If he fails to deliver health legislation, Obama will prove right those who said he was in over his head. That would make him something of a lame duck after only seven months in office.

Stirewalt’s piece does a good job of explaining how Obama has made “rookie mistakes” on health care. But the notion that these mistakes might wreck his presidency and render him a lame duck strikes me as wishful thinking.
Presidents have recovered from starts as shaky or shakier than Obama’s will be if he fails to pass any health care reform. Bill Clinton, in fact, recovered from essentially the same failure. John Kennedy recovered from the embarrassment of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, among other Cold War mishaps that had most people thinking he was out of his depth.
I consider it all but impossible for a president to become a lame duck after seven months. That’s because the American people wisely consider the prospect of such a president unacceptable, and thus will always give the president more chances this early in his tenure.
It’s also rare to see a presidency defined by what transpires in the first year. The most recent presidency was defined mostly by the measures George Bush took over the course of several years in response to the events of September 11 of his first year. President Clinton’s presidency was defined by a scandal that occurred long after he recovered from his initial difficulties. President Reagan’s presidency was defined by the fall of European Communism during his second term.
These three presidencies, as well as that of Bush I, also rose and/or fell with the economic tide. If the economy booms in 2010, Americans can be expected to forget quickly about the health care wars of 2009.

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