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Nervous about Obama.

Byline: The Register-Guard

President Obama's doubt index has been creeping up along with the unemployment rate in recent weeks. The index measures the views of people - not just opponents or perpetual critics - who have begun to wonder whether the nation's chief executive can, well, execute.

Obama hasn't lost his charm, his intelligence, or his ability to launch flights of appealing rhetoric. But he has shown a mildly surprising willingness to compromise, and sometimes completely back away, when challenged.

Those in his inner circle dismiss these negative impressions. After all, they say, the president prides himself on being practical, not a hard-nosed ideologue. And that's certainly true. But that doesn't keep his moderation from disappointing some voters who feel that his pre-election statements promised more.

Not too many people are clued in to the politics of agricultural subsidies, so there was no national outcry when Congress effectively killed Obama's proposal to cut the subsidies by $1 billion. Even fewer are even aware that Obama dropped a plan to create a national commission to help close Social Security's funding gap.

More are likely to notice if the president doesn't help those in Congress who soon will try to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. He implied last week, during a trip to Mexico, that he would not invest any political capital in that fight.

Why not? Is he afraid of losing support of the National Rifle Association? Opting out of this fight is bound to raise a few questions.

All of these are third-level issues at the moment, of course. At the top of Obama's agenda is economic recovery, a challenge that overshadows everything else.

Obama would like voters to believe that three related reform issues - health care, energy and education - are of equal weight, but they're not. All could contribute to economic recovery if they could be accomplished, particularly health care, but it's unlikely that all will reach the finish line at the same time, if at all.

Nonetheless, the breadth of Obama's challenge provides some justification for the defense offered by his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, in last Sunday's New York Times: "We're not taking on a fight, we're taking on a multiple-front fight because we've taken on a series of entrenched interests across the waterfront - from education to health care, and the defense industry, and the lobbying industry as a whole.

"There will be a scorecard at the end of which ones we won and which ones we didn't, but every one of those policy challenges have been initiated by us."

In his weekly radio address last Saturday the president launched yet another initiative, this time promising an itemized review of federal spending that will lead to "the elimination of dozens of government programs shown to be wasteful or ineffective."

It's hard to greet that with much more than, "Yeah, sure." Promising to save tons of money by cutting governmental "waste and fraud" is a political bromide nearly as old as the republic. It is more often used by Republicans, but candidates of both major parties are vulnerable to its populist appeal.

It's unfair to be cynical, of course. Who knows, this president may actually carry through on his efficiency-based pledge and actually save a few billion dollars.

If so, he will deserve applause. But he will deserve much more if he proves over time that he will stand firm for the important things. It will take more than just talk to get that doubt index down to where it's supposed to be.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Does he give in too easily?
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 21, 2009
Words:585
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