If you work a human body too hard, too quickly, eventually something will pop. It might be a torn ligament or a ripped muscle, but when it goes, everything hurts.
For a while, you might push through the pain and keep exercising. But at some point, unless you want permanent injury, you have to stop, rest, re-evaluate and apply ice.
It’s a question of limits, not abilities. The brain may have gone to Harvard, but after a point it won’t be able to stop the pain-wracked limbs from rebelling.
This past year, President Barack Obama worked the American body politic too hard, too quickly, and he’s paying for it now. He hasn’t just pulled a few muscles, either, he’s put himself and his pals in the trauma ward.
That’s what happens when you try to force a largely center-right populace to run a liberal marathon.
Gallup pollsters say Obama now has the distinction of being the most polarizing first-year president in history.
Remember those early days, last year? It was shock and awe, like having a trainer lift you off the sofa and slam your wobbly self onto a treadmill moving at full speed.
America’s new president was all action. He ordered the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay (without knowing where he’d disperse its terrorist inmates). He gave his first television interview not to an American outlet but to the Arabic-language network Al Arabiya.
He swiftly signed the lard-loaded
$787 billion stimulus package designed by and for congressional Democrats. On taxpayers’ dime, he bought General Motors for the United Auto Workers union and strong-armed Chrysler bondholders out of what they were owed.
Meanwhile, Obama began traveling the globe. He beamed and shook hands with Venezuela’s anti-American thug leader, Hugo Chavez. He bowed like a subject to the king of Saudi Arabia (and, later, to the emperor of Japan).
In a speech in Cairo, he made a bizarre claim to foreign Muslims: “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
He snubbed the British, and pulled the missile defense rug out from under doughty Eastern European allies. He held out his hand to Tehran and Pyongyang, and the tyrants who live in those places refused to shake.
It was, to put it mildly, an eventful start. The public, which hoped it had elected a thoughtful post-partisan, panted at the effort needed to absorb the possibility that the president was, instead, a radical who intended to reorder America.
(It’s true that during the campaign Obama said he planned to remake the country. It’s also fair to say that most voters took this to be aspirational rhetoric, not an actual repudiation of the America that had gone before.)
We like the man and his nice family, people kept saying, as the president’s approval rate sank and public anxiety rose, but we don’t like his policies. Yet, there was no rest, no breather — Copenhagen, cap-and-trade, health care reform (or was it health insurance reform?), billions for education, billions here and billions there.
In the year since Obama took office, he has, according to analysis by Bloomberg, “spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year.”
Well, you can push a body a lot before it breaks down. And you can tax a populace, too, until suddenly you can’t. Ping! New Jersey was gone in November, as it threw out its Obama-backed Democratic governor and voted in a Republican. Zing! Virginia did the same thing.
Aaagh! That was Massachusetts last week, as, with an agonizing snap of the Democrats’ Achilles tendon, Republican Scott Brown broke the party’s 60-seat majority in the Senate.
Now, the president is hobbled. He’s suddenly realized he needs ice. Perhaps a spending freeze will chill the injured body politic and soothe what a physical therapist friend of mine calls the “angry gristle” of inflamed hip and knee joints.
Maybe. More likely, like many a penitent middle-aged marathoner, it’s too late. He’s done permanent damage. He’ll be limping — perhaps for the rest of his term.
Examiner columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon is a former foreign correspondent and a regular contributor to the books pages of The Wall Street Journal.