America is now looking for something more than quiet self-assurance in its president
By Walter Shapiro
We live in a media culture where being a soothsayer is more profitable than it was in ancient Rome — and today's TV pundits do not have to mess with the entrails of animals. Small wonder that after the Democrats' staggering 63 seat loss in the House, the urge to offer a definitive judgment on Barack Obama's 2012 political fate is as irresistible as betting against another term for Julius Caesar.
But Tuesday's news — from Korea to Kokomo — illustrates how hard it is to know in advance which developments are transient and which will have lasting reverberations for the Obama presidency.
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The sudden eruption of artillery fire across the Korean armistice line is inevitably fraught with risk for any president — Democrat or Republican — because America's options (beyond trying to bribe Pyongyang) are so limited in the face of a nuclear-armed North Korea. Or take The New York Times' revelation in a front-page exclusive that so far has provoked surprisingly little domestic political reaction that the Afghan government's ballyhooed peace talks with the Taliban involved negotiations with and payoffs to an impostor. The story's delicious details — including Taliban prisoners vouching for the authenticity of the con man — contribute to a narrative that might further undermine support for the Afghan War.
Of course, it is more likely that an air of uneasy calm will soon return to the Korean peninsula and the Afghan impostor story will be forgotten until it becomes the plot for a new Leonardo DiCaprio movie.
What instead may linger in the memory of the 2012 voters is the president's triumphant visit to a reborn Chrysler plant in Kokomo, Ind., a state that Obama carried by 26,000 votes last time around. Maybe the embattled president's Kokomo Comeback began when he exuberantly declared to the Chrysler workers, "So here's the lesson: Don't bet against America. Don't bet against the American auto industry. Don't bet against American ingenuity. Don't bet against the American worker." Left unspoken was Obama's real message: "Don't bet against me."