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Opinion: Columnists

Two for the road

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If President Obama loses next Tuesday, we will be tempted to point to two days that did it: Sept. 11, 2012, (riots in Cairo and elsewhere); and Oct. 3, (the first debate). But the real cause may lie in two paths not taken, in which unwise decisions led to bad outcomes.

The first came in January 2010, when Scott Brown, running as the 41st vote to finish Obamacare, won a special election to fill the seat of Ted Kennedy by an unexpected large margin in blue Massachusetts, which had gone overwhelmingly for the Democrats in 2008. This came after the off-year elections in Virginia and in New Jersey. These states, which also had gone for Obama, made large swings to install Republican governors, who campaigned against his ideas. Protests had dogged Democrats at town meetings, polls showed the public despised his proposals, and his approval ratings had fallen dramatically. He had two choices. One was to scale down his health care bill to a few proposals which could have won broad approval, try to win over some centrist Republicans, and have a small but real win he could take to the public. The other, which he chose, was to go big: ram the bill back through the House of Representatives, enrage the people already against him, and add to their number those made as angry by the procedure as others had been by the bill.

Obama went big. He won, but he shredded his party, put a huge head of wind behind his opponents, and now has a bill he can't cite in mixed company. He lost the House, lost independents, and may lose this election. He wanted too badly to be "historic." Sometimes "historic" describes a defeat.

The second path presented itself Sept. 12, the day after the attacks in Egypt and Libya, (two countries in which Obama 'led from behind' to liberate from their oppressors). Embassies were breached, flags burned, Obama himself burned in effigy in numerous places, and four Americans, one an ambassador, killed. After the Bay of Pigs, and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, Kennedy and Reagan accepted the blame, apologized to the country, and vowed to do better. Obama might have done well had he suspended campaigning, convened his advisers, and followed the lead of these presidents. Instead, he treated this as diversion from his real job of running for office, made a few remarks, and then hopped on a plane to Las Vegas, where he passed the night laughing it up with assorted celebrities.

Two days later, he met the bodies when they were returned to this country, and took off for more campaign events.

Instead of admitting the attacks had been planned by al Qaeda, (which would have compromised his claim it had died along with bin Laden, but allowed the country to rally around him against its old enemy), Obama floated the claim that the riots erupted in rage against a 12-minute video made in America that very few people had ever seen. This was met with derision, and further tales of chaos concerning behavior before and during the crises eroded his foreign policy cred. An event that might have been made him look taller -- a rally-around-the-flag moment -- is instead becoming a Watergate/Chappaquiddick occasion, replete with cover-ups, cowardice, confusion and a politician in trouble, attempting to save his own skin.

By saving his skin, he's looking to lose it. Had he chosen well, he might now be cruising to victory. He didn't. He's not.

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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Noemie Emery

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The Washington Examiner