You can tell right away when a magician loses his touch. Even if the tricks work, you see the effort involved.
Barack Obama was traveling the US this week, trying to pull more than $800 billion out of his hat to boost the economy. It worked and the Congress is preparing to give him the money for an enormous stimulus plan that has become a test of his new administration. But for the first time in months, Obama lost his magic. The euphoria that had surrounded him seemed to have evaporated. Obama is still astoundingly popular. The latest CNN-Opinion Research poll found that 76 percent of Americans approve of how he’s handled his three weeks in the presidency. But things have changed, for both Obama and his opponents. The remarkable man who made history is now in the more routine position of a president, a working politician who doesn’t automatically get his way. The Republicans have a freer hand. Instead of being forced to defend the unpopular Bush presidency, they attacked, criticizing the new president’s stimulus plan as wasteful and unwise. The battleground is the U.S. Congress, because it’s the Congress that controls spending. Obama’s majority is slim and he needs the support of both Democrats and Republicans to get his policies adopted. He was hoping for a broad bi-partisan consensus, but he was forced to plead for the stimulus money instead.
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He left Washington for visits to Indiana, Florida and Virginia, trying to pressure Congress by appealing directly to the American people. For a few days, he was more like a candidate running a campaign than a president running the country. The authority of the Oval Office, the mandate of the November election and the enormous excitement that is still attached to him hardly seemed to matter. In the end, Obama will get the money. But it was much harder than you might have expected just a few weeks ago, when America was so excited about its new president. America is still excited, but either Obama has lost some of his magic of may need a little more practice with his wand.