Has Barack Lost Frank Rich, Too?

Has Obama lost liberal columnist Frank Rich, too?

Columnist Paul Krugman declared the president "clueless" in a January 20 nytimes.com post over his failure to aggressively defend his health care plan. Taking another approach, columnist Bob Herbert routinely derides Obama for focusing on health care at the expense of job creation. Rich piled on in Sunday's "The Up-or-Down Vote on Obama's Presidency."

Wednesday's health care rally was one of President Obama's finest hours. It was so fine it couldn't be blighted even by his preposterous backdrop, a cohort of white-jacketed medical workers large enough to staff a hospital in one of the daytime soaps that refused to be pre-empted by the White House show.

Obama's urgent script didn't need such cheesy theatrics. At last he took ownership of what he called "my proposal," stating concisely three concrete ways the bill would improve America's broken health care system. At last he pushed for a majority-rule, up-or-down vote in Congress. At last he conceded that bipartisan agreement between two parties with "honest and substantial differences" on fundamental principles wasn't happening. At last he mobilized his rhetoric against a villain everyone could hiss - insurance companies. In a brief address, he mentioned these malefactors of great greed 13 times.

There was only one problem. This finest hour arrived hastily and tardily. At 1:45 p.m. Eastern time, who was watching? Of those who did watch or caught up later, how many bought the president's vow to finish the job "in the next few weeks"? We've heard this too many times before. Last May Obama said he would have a bill by late July. In July he said he wanted it "done by the fall." The White House's new date for final House action - specified as March 18 by Robert Gibbs, the press secretary - is already in jeopardy.

Rich urged Obama to get cracking:

He cannot wait much longer. The rise in credit-card rates, as well as the drop in consumer confidence, home sales and bank lending, all foretell more suffering ahead for those who don't work on Wall Street. But on these issues the president, too timid to confront the financial industry backers of his own campaign (or their tribunes in his own administration) and too fearful of sounding like a vulgar partisan populist, has taken to repeating his health care performance....This time Obama doesn't have a year to arrive at his finest hour. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the clock runs out on Nov. 2.