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Michael Gerson: Obama's discrediting victory

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: October 31, 2012

The evidence is found in the current campaign. Obama's signature legislative accomplishment is a relatively minor theme of his re-election effort. Obama's closing argument on health care is mainly a divisive, unqualified defense of abortion rights.

Persuasive powers limited

Obamacare matters in the current election not only because its future is at stake but for what its passage tells us about Obama as a leader. He is stubborn, which can be an admirable trait when applied to the public interest. But on health care reform, Obama combined stubbornness with ideological predictability and partisan ruthlessness.

Obama tends to overestimate his own negotiating skills with Congress, which are poor. When the ideological stakes are highest, Obama jettisons bipartisanship with little thought or regret. He was perfectly willing to reorganize one-sixth of the economy on a party-line vote. He has employed tactics that ensure future partisan bitterness. His persuasive powers on the issue of health care turned out to be limited. The more he spoke, the less public support he found. But he proved incapable of creative ideological readjustment.

Obama's largest achievement turned out to be a self-indictment. He has not shown the leadership skills or the inclination to create consensus around large issues. The problem is that large issues — avoiding the fiscal cliff, reforming the tax code, making entitlement commitments more sustainable — are coming. Either Obama will have to become an entirely different type of leader — or America needs a new one.