When Matthew Norman tells me not to write off Barack Obama, I know the President is in trouble.
One idea common among even reliable commentators such as Ian Leslie is that "this setback may be a blessing in disguise for Obama". As Leslie himself admits, the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat is a pretty good disguise.
I admire Obama, and tend towards the "considered and thoughtful" school of thought on his Afghanistan decision-making, rather than the "dithering and inconsistent". I acknowledge, too, the Hitch's praise for "his nature":
There's something everyone has forgotten, and Obama has never tried to remind them. He doesn't get credit because he's never asked for it. Do you remember when the American crew was taken by the pirates off the coast of Somalia? ... Someone went to the Oval Office and said, "Mr. President, you have three choices. We can have a standoff with the Somali government, we can negotiate with the pirates, or you can order the Navy SEALs to fire four shots." I wouldn't like to be a newly elected president and have that dumped on my desk. He must have said, however long it took him, "Use the SEALs." ... What impresses me is that he didn't give a speech later about it. If Reagan had done that, everyone would remember it. There would be hubris. "They can run, but they can't hide." I like his nature. Those who need to know, know.
But there is something worrying about Obama's sense of political strategy. This healthcare reform is not working. And it is not simply that the instincts of Obama and the people around him are too left-wing. As Howard Dean said on Newsnight last night (via Left Foot Forward), Massachusetts was not a "revolt of the right":
Eighteen per cent of the people who voted for Scott Brown were Obama voters; of those, by 3:2 they wanted a public option in the healthcare bill which meant they thought the bill didn’t go far enough. We then polled Obama voters who didn’t bother to vote – of them, 6:1 decided they wanted a public option and they didn’t think the bill went far enough. So, contrary to what a lot of American pundits are talking about, this is not a revolt of the right, this is Barack Obama’s core base not thinking that we’ve done what he was asked to do.
But that makes it more difficult. If it is just an unappeasable yearning for "change" that Obama is up against, then he really is up against it.