Obama's Bad Omens

If this were ancient Rome, Barack Obama would be huddled in a temple wondering what went wrong and the Roman Senate would be trying to choose a new Caesar. The crowning of the liberal Sun King ran behind schedule, and that was the best omen for Obama on the day of his inauguration.

It began with the Chief Justice flubbing the oath of office. The scholarly John Roberts seemed to stumble a bit on one phrase, saying “office to” rather than “office of” the President of the United States. Obama, calm as ever, waited as the CJ repeated the phrase correctly.

Then came President Obama’s inaugural address. Just for laughs, I tuned in to MSNBC at about 10 a.m., and heard their dolt-laureate Keith Olbermann predicting an oration equal to Lincoln’s at Gettysburg. The speech was sprinkled with applause lines at which rhetorician Obama paused repeatedly, but the crowd didn’t respond. Were they too chilled by the Washington cold, or was the speech just a dud? Earlier inaugurations were held in colder weather, earlier presidents getting bigger applause for memorable lines.

The sad truth was that master speechmaker Obama didn’t deliver. His speech was as important and memorable as confirmation hearing question by his verbose vice president. Obama had reportedly spent a week writing it (with the ghostwriting of his speechwriters and other advisors customarily uncredited), but when it came time to deliver, there wasn’t much meat to energize liberals or for conservatives to chew on. Children of future generations won’t be quoting memorable lines from the speech, because there weren’t any.

And then during the celebratory luncheon in the Capitol, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) suffered a seizure and was taken away by ambulance. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), at 91 the oldest member of the Senate, also reportedly had a medical problem that required immediate attention. (Byrd’s office denies he had a problem and only reacted to Kennedy’s collapse. But Kennedy collapsed after Byrd was forced to leave the luncheon.)

The inaugural parade began about an hour late, probably due to the Kennedy-Byrd problems. It went slowly but smoothly, and at two points the Obamas got out of the limousine to walk up Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to the cheering crowd.

But before the parade was over, the stock markets delivered the day’s last bad omen. It closed with the Dow Jones average down more than 330 points, closing below 8,000.

Wall Street, perhaps unrealistically, had hoped Obama’s speech would promise specific remedies to the financial crisis. But President Platitudypus didn’t provide them. The markets are left with the sinking feeling that all they’ll see is the Democrats’ porkfest-stimulus package, which they know won’t stimulate the markets: it’s a plan to stimulate the government and further burden the taxpayer.

And tomorrow, the Sun King has to face his biggest problem: the leaders of the Congressional Democrats.

The first Sun King, Louis XIV, took the throne as a child. His mother, Anne of Austria, inherited her husband’s ministers — Cardinal Richelieu chief among them — and dealt unsuccessfully with a nobles’ revolt that nearly toppled the monarchy.

Obama brings his own Richelieu with him. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama today face a Congress dominated by Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, Harry Reid and Dianne Feinstein. They will make his first 100 days as rocky as Louis XIV’s first three decades on the French throne.

Pelosi and Waxman want retribution against the Bush administration and individual officials. Look for show trial-style hearings in the next 60 days that will drag Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzales and possibly even Donald Rumsfeld before the television cameras. Those hearings won’t be designed to find fact: they will be aimed at the evening news programs to score political points and hold their victims up as liars and crooks.

Obama’s problem with Congress — one of many — is that the time the Democratic leaders want to spend chastising the Bush officials takes time from his grand plans. And Republican resistance to some cabinet nominees — Hillary Clinton for the conflicts of interest her hubby’s foundation raises, Eric Holder for his radical left views on gun control, civil rights for terrorist detainees and more — will constrain Obama’s ability to accomplish much.

Clinton had an apparently heated discussion at the post-inauguration with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) about the hold he’s placed on her confirmation. The conservative Cornyn isn’t satisfied with the Clintonian papering-over of the problems for the would-be Secretary of State caused by President Clinton’s foundation accepting donations from foreign governments.

Bill could stop taking those donations and clear up the conflicts by also refusing future speaking fees from foreign sources. It would require a comprehensively un-Clintonian self-denial for him to do so. If Bill doesn’t, Cornyn should stick to his objection.

The other major problem is that the liberals in Congress now feel unconstrained. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is now chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Her questions to Attorney General nominee Eric Holder indicate — and other Senate sources confirm — that she may try to cut back on intelligence-gathering activities such as the National Security Agency’s terrorist surveillance program. Republicans will fight and fight loudly, as well they should.

Obama won’t have a Congressional honeymoon in his first one hundred days. You don’t have to be Cassandra to read yesterday’s omens to be a sign the political gods aren’t smiling on our new president.