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January 20th, 2010
Happy Anniversary!

WASHINGTON - Happy Anniversary, Mr. President. Your second year could be worse than your first.

You've just lost your filibuster-proof majority, your opposition is energized, allies worry you've lost touch with the voters and polls say you're almost as polarizing as your predecessor.

The Massachusetts Miracle is more than a symbolic repudiation. It's a reminder that the heady optimism of Barack Obama's inaugural, a year ago today, has dissolved into a struggling presidency.

To revive his fortunes, aides say Obama must first pass health care reform quickly, then do a better job of explaining to a dubious public why it's good for them.

He must also shed his professorial style and tap into populist rage over exorbitant-as-usual bonuses by the big banks to reconnect with everyday Americans.

"He does come off as very detached and aloof," a longtime booster said. "It's time for Drama-Obama," a reference to the President's long-admired reputation among associates as an unflappable, no-Drama Obama.

"If people don't think he's like you and me, something's seriously wrong," the Democrat added.

Finally, aides recognize he has to pivot from health care to the economy, whose state of health will determine if he's a one- or two-term President.

"In the end, the economy will save him or doom him," a Democratic elder predicted. "The focus has to be on recovery, recovery, recovery the rest of the way."

Presidential handlers call the difficult past year a down payment on the transformational change Obama promised voters and say they're confident an improving economy will eventually revive his political standing.

"We're nowhere near where we need to be," senior counselor David Axelrod said last week. "We're happy with what we accomplished, but we are not satisfied with what we accomplished."

Elsewhere, reviews aren't so cheerful.

"He is a man of perpetual promise," conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer observed in October. "He has obviously achieved nothing."

Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute was somewhat kinder: "He gets a passing grade, but the report card is not so good his mother's gonna put it up on the refrigerator."

In his first year, Obama brought the economy back from the brink of cataclysm, named a Latina to the Supreme Court, mended overseas fences and escalated the war inAfghanistan.

Yet his poll numbers have tanked. At least for now, he's been abandoned by the independents and idealistic first-time voters who largely elected him.

Republicans, meanwhile, have succeeded in painting him as a classic elite, tax-and-spend liberal who doesn't understand real people.

"It seems like they thought Washington was some sort of Etch A Sketch [toy] where you shake it and all the lines vanish," said a disillusioned Democratic aide on Capitol Hill. "They thought they were going to change the world."

But as spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday, "Change takes a long time. ... Change is never easy. ... Change has to go through Congress."

tdefrank@nydailynews.com


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We'll See - 2010-02-09
Hard to know what the new year will bring.
by lee



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