It's as simple as this: Just as semi-rural Georgia politics of the mid-1970s couldn't be imposed on the Washington establishment, Chicago-style, brute-force politics doesn't work, either. Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress started digging a hole when they decided to force-feed massive healthcare reform on the American people in the middle of an unprecedented financial crisis. And with every town hall meeting, press conference, and leak of a new strategy, they just keep digging that hole deeper.
In early February, I suggested that the new president might become the Jimmy Carter of this generation. To date, I have little doubt that he's well on his way. In fact, Obama is the "super-sized" version of Carter — the style and gimmicks that he uses to try to get his way have gone way over the top. The result is that his polling numbers are dropping like granite.
Carter's early years as president included cute moves like amnesty for Vietnam War draft dodgers, a bailout of Chrysler (sound familiar?) and the creation of an energy department that was heralded by the installation of solar panels at the White House. They never really worked.
Carter's staff felt that their man had been elected on a mandate of "change." They got that notion from the nation's anti-Washington, post-Watergate mood. The Carter crew viewed Congress as a necessary impediment that was expected to yield to the new ways of the White House.
But the Carter team had nothing on Obama. For example, Carter began his term with no official chief of staff. But quickly enough, that role fell to a brilliant man by the name of Hamilton Jordan. While many in Washington saw Jordan as arrogant and a playboy, he was never feared like current White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is.
Carter's press secretary was the genial and soft-spoken Jody Powell. It's hard to imagine Powell getting into the type of ruckus recently ignited by current White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
With the Obama team, everything has to be a bigger and brasher brand of Carter-style politics. Carter merely had his pearly white teeth to flash to the media. Obama has his endless wit and charm, and the ability to sink a half-court basketball shot on a moment's notice.
But just like Carter's toothy grin grew weary on the general public, Obama's stylish forays and endless press conferences, while perhaps still the apple of the eye of the D.C. press corps, are quickly growing old with Americans. They're not entertained or charmed because they're too busy being terrified over their economic future and confused by a barrage of government programs that the new administration is proposing.
Like Carter, one gets the sense that the Obama administration is not as keen on the strength of our military as perhaps a president should be. Nor is he willing, at least in the early going, to stare down potentially dangerous foreign adversaries. In essence, both men came into office believing they had been given a mandate from heaven to change the lives of Americans. It's just that Carter thought so in comparatively modest ways, while Obama came from Chicago with the idea that his big city machine should move mountains at a snap of the fingers.
Like Carter, Obama is running into a buzz saw with Congress. He has quickly learned that a strong-willed liberal House speaker and a not-so-friendly Senate can mangle legislation into something unrecognizable. Now the healthcare effort has become a political football, and like Carter, Obama believes the public still loves him and his rhetoric.
Here's a message, Mr. President: They don't. Obama is overwrought, overexposed, and under-prepared with policy details.
Because of his administration's haste to solve all of the world's problems in six months, ideas such as the "cash for clunkers" auto program have yielded plenty of car sales, but also have proved how inept the government is at administering such initiatives. Car dealers can't get their cash for the clunkers they accepted in exchange for new car purchases. It sure does provide encouragement about the ability of government to pay for healthcare, huh?
In short, as a writer once put it, "Jimmy Carter's biggest problem was that he believed his own 'BS.' " That goes super-sized for Obama, at least for now.
Matt Towery served as the chairman of former Speaker Newt Gingrich's political organization from 1992 until Gingrich left Congress. He is a former Georgia state representative, the author of several books and currently heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.