A President in Need of a Break

The House is scheduled to start its summer recess at the end of next week. The week after that, the Senate leaves, and then President Barack Obama heads to Martha's Vineyard with his family for a two-week vacation that ought to dampen the noise coming out of Washington. Can everybody say "Amen"? We all need the break, but the president, maybe, most of all.

By all accounts, Obama suffered a bad week. It involved everything from Birthers to Blue Dogs, Glenn Beck to beer. While the White House does not seem to be facing any imminent threat of failure -- though, you have to wonder about health care at this point -- the president just seems a little off his game. His appearances have been a little forced, and he hasn't presented the usually unflappable Obama, the one we have come to expect especially in times of trouble.

The true Obama give has been his ability to rise above the fray at exactly the right moment. He will say something so obviously true that he not only convinces you that he’s right but wins your confidence. Lately, that pitch hasn't been working for the president, and some of his detractors are having a little more fun with him than usual.

For example, he can’t seem to escape all the crazy talk about his birth certificate. Even people we thought were mildly responsible crazies, like Lou Dobbs, are fanning the flames of this pointless controversy. It’s a stupid issue, but it’s distracting, and the president does not need it.

Then there was the Skip Gates affair. Full disclosure, Gates is my boss in another life, and so I have refrained from saying much about it. The president has not been so lucky -- he stepped into it and has spent the week trying to get out. What he had to say about racial profiling was exactly what some of us wanted to hear, but it did not come with the usual "I have thought this through and this is where I ended up" gravitas. As a result, he got beat up over it.

Most important, it is in the health-care debate that the old Obama has been most notably absent. Maybe it’s the complicated sprawling nature of the beast, but he has seemed to be flailing the issue in recent days. His town meetings seem to be adding to the din instead of cutting through the confusion. Usually, the big clarifying speech is Obama’s go-to move. But his attempt at that last Wednesday failed, and the muddle is helping the other side.

Just to confirm what should be apparent to everyone paying attention, the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday showed Obama's job approval rating at a merely acceptable 53 percent, down from 56 percent last month and 60 percent after his inauguration. More ominous is that Obama’s 41 percent approval rating on his handling of health-care reform almost matches Bill Clinton's 40 percent on his handling of the same issue in the summer of 1994.

But while the Republicans are doing everything they can to reprise their 1994 killing of health-care reform, it is the conservative Democrats -- particularly Blue Dog Democrats in the House -- who seem to be Obama's most immediate problem. And he can’t seem to rein them in. In fact, they seem to be growing bolder in their defiance every day.

Most of these Blue Dog Democrats come from districts that Obama did not win and therefore worry that hewing too close to his agenda could mean trouble for them come election time. They talk of concerns about the cost of the health-care package, and there may be those who are genuinely worried about the deficit. But most of them, however, are just running scared that they might not get re-elected, even if they're not nearly as vulnerable as they would like us to believe.

Still, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama's overall approval rating in the Blue Dog districts has dropped dramatically since June: "Among those living in the 51 congressional Districts represented by members of the Blue Dog coalition, it's fallen from 71 percent to 57 percent. While among those in districts represented by other Democrats, it's held about even at 67.”

These numbers are going to be hard to fight, unless the president is ready to go to war, and for that he needs to take a vacation. He needs to go relax, regroup, and return with the “Full Obama.”