woody_zimmerman_118_2007During the 1960s and ‘70s a daredevil motorcyclist named Evel Knievel made a splash (and occasionally a splat) by jumping his rocket-propelled bike over improbable obstacles like 27 garbage trucks and the Snake River canyon. (A request to jump the Grand Canyon was denied.) Some of these lucrative attempts ended disastrously. A crash in the Snake River try put him in a coma for 29 days. He broke 433 bones (a record) over his career. Somehow he survived to die of pulmonary problems in 2007, at age 69.

In other news, a driver named Evil Kowalski tried to jump his garbage truck over 27 motorcycles. (Just kidding – I’ll probably be in big trouble with the Polish Anti-defamation League…)

The amazin’ Evel made things difficult for himself in order to burnish his reputation as a man who could surmount seemingly impossible obstacles. It was the shtick on which he built his entire career. He came out the other side – although who knows how – but only just. It’s a wonder that he didn’t break his neck. (Even the non-Irish have the luck of the Irish sometimes.)

I mention this bygone daredevil because our current president seems like him in so many ways. Most presidents try to do things in their first terms to make their re-election easier and more certain. Not Mr. Obama, though. Many of his policies and acts of governance are remarkable for their negative effect on his re-election prospects. He seems determined to show that he is strong enough to be re-elected, no matter how many figurative garbage trucks are lined up for him to jump over. A few examples:

Spending and Deficits. Voters are grossed out by gigantic annual federal deficits ($1.7 trillion for FY2011) projected out into the foreseeable future. In the elections of November 2010, voters knocked Mr. Obama and his party upside the head by turning the House of Representatives back to Republican control and reducing Democrats’ majority in the Senate from 10 to only a few seats. In a truly amazin’ feat of “let’s pretend,” Mr. Obama continues to act as though the November election-results didn’t happen – or else that they meant something different from what voters obviously said. His proposals to address projected deficits of nearly $20 trillion over the next 10 years make a pathetic dent of only $3.3 trillion. Most of his “cuts” would take effect only after they can have no political consequences to him.

During congressional debates on reducing federal overspending, Mr. Obama has stayed aloof from the fray, speaking loftily of “investments” the country needs to make, “critical priorities,” etc. He has criticized the budget crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-VA) for being “extreme,” but has remained disengaged from any serious attempts to reduce spending. (Why would he engage? Most of the overspending was his, and he has no interest in cutting those programs.)

Even liberal-slanted media have had difficulty hiding the fact that Mr. Obama’s poll ratings for his handling of the deficit have plunged into the basement. Mr. Obama clearly hopes to outlast Republicans on the issue. Voters refuse to disengage, however. Big media try to ignore it, but Fox News and other alternate sources are staying on it, to the Obama administration’s considerable frustration.

Energy. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, Mr. Obama burnished his “green” credentials by stopping most drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists hailed his “responsibility,” media acolytes praised him, and the public mostly yawned – except for oil-industry workers in the Gulf who had been laid off. It was the golden moment of Mr. Obama’s environmentalist dreams.

That dream has now become a nightmare, as world oil prices have soared past $100 a barrel, and gasoline is again selling for over $4 a gallon. Mr. Obama and his Democrat allies have tried to blame Big Oil and “speculators” for the high prices, but the charge won’t stick. The public is too savvy to this shtick. He has talked about releasing oil supplies from the strategic national reserve. And lately, he has made a few feeble gestures toward easing restrictions on coastal drilling. He has talked a brave game of “green” vehicles and alternate energy sources, but the public remains sullen and resentful over gas prices. Everyone needs gasoline, whatever his political proclivities, and few like paying over $4 a gallon for it.

Experienced politicians know that no sitting president (or presidential heir-apparent) has survived gasoline prices at current levels. Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and John McCain all came to grief when gasoline prices soared above levels tolerable to the public. Mr. Obama has time to bring those prices down with prudent actions to open up domestic production. The question is, Will he?

Employment. Games with unemployment numbers and fanciful tales of “jobs saved” have failed to conceal the fact that over 7 million jobs have disappeared since 2008. Most of these losses have come on Mr. Obama’s watch – his claims of inheriting a deteriorating economy from President Bush notwithstanding. Lately, unemployment has pushed past 9% once again.

Mr. Obama has now begun to “jawbone” private companies, saying they need to “step up” and start hiring. This betrays his total lack of understanding of business, in which he has never been an actual participant. Businesses do not hire as a public service or to please particular politicians. They hire new employees when business expands such that additional people are needed, or in order to expand their business in a climate perceived as favorable. Generally speaking, even the lowest-level workers understand this. The president’s calls for increased hiring not only fall on deaf ears but make him look foolish and out of touch with business-realities.

Voters are savvy to the undeniable fact that Mr. Obama spent much of his first two years in office ramming Obamacare through congressional passage, instead of concentrating on energizing the economy so people could get back to work. Obamacare has turned out to be counter-productive for the employment picture, as the far-reaching new legislation is now creating uncertainties which make businesses cautious about business-expansion and hiring.

Mr. Obama and his administration made a capital error, born of arrogance, early in his term when they promised that his$800 billion “stimulus package” would keep unemployment under 8%. Instead, unemployment kept climbing to over 10%. While the figure has drifted down since then, it has stubbornly stayed at 9% or higher throughout his term. Economists continue to point out that the country’s true “underemployment” rate – including people now discouraged from looking and people working less than full-time – is at least 17%, and could be as high as 20%.

Politicians should never make measurable performance-promises for a period of time in which they can still be held accountable. Although some journalists and media organs have conveniently “forgotten” Mr. Obama’s big promises, not all have. The latter continue to needle him, and will undoubtedly do so until the elections of November 2012.

Israel and American Jews. Mr. Obama’s latest daredevil act has been a “major” policy speech on the Mideast Peace Process, given on May 19th. In that speech he specified Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for new negotiations with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a stinging rebuke – all but calling Mr. Obama’s proposal “ridiculous,” and saying that the old borders are “indefensible.” In a memorable line, he emphasized: “It’s not gonna happen…” – leaving journalists and pundits scrambling to recall a time when a friend and ally of the USA has slapped a president in so public a fashion. (Never, in living memory.)

Following Mr. Netanyahu’s public remarks, he and Mr. Obama sat down at the White House for private discussions of various issues. Mr. Obama later remarked (in a small understatement) that they had differences of opinion, as friends often do. In their joint press-appearance, however, it was impossible to conceal the underlying irritation between the two leaders. Clearly, all was not well.

Milton Himmelfarb famously said Jews earn like Episcopalians, but vote like Puerto Ricans – meaning that they are unfailingly liberal. Jews are one of the Democratic coalition’s staunchest constituencies. This has allowed Mr. Obama to have an entirely free hand with respect to Israel. He could assume that, after the obligatory grumbling, American Jews would always be in the Democratic column, no matter how badly he treated Israel or otherwise acted contrary to Jewish interests.

Most journalists and commentators confidently expect this conventional wisdom to hold, even after Mr. Obama’s latest foray into policy that opposes Israeli interests and interferes with its ability to defend its borders and its people. They may be right. No one ever went broke betting on American Jews’ stubborn adherence to the Democrat Party.

This is not the first instance of Mr. Obama snubbing Israel or favoring Palestinian/Muslim interests over Jewish interests in the Midle East. It has been a sore point throughout most of his term in office. He is confident that Jews have nowhere else to go, politically, but he might have made a fatal miscalculation there. Republicans overwhelmingly support Israel, largely because a core GOP constituency – Evangelical Christians – are pro-Israel in the 80-90% range.

Democrats were the party of anti-Semitism in the racist south. FDR tried to paper this over with Jewish cabinet-secretaries and other government officials, but the party’s racist past lingers in the air like body odor in a houseful of unwashed people. Moreover, the far left of today’s Democrat Party are lining up as solidly pro-Muslim. Soon, the GOP will be Jews’ only safe haven – not a good omen for Mr. Obama.

Has our daredevil president lined up too many garbage trucks to jump over? Only time will tell.