Obama’s problems are our problems too

President Obama is in trouble. So are we.

When the president vows to keep a campaign promise by insisting on health care insurance for all and makes millions of people furious, including many Democrats, you know he has confused us.

When eight years after Sept. 11, 2001, the president is on the verge of putting thousands more soldiers in Afghanistan without having explained our mission there, you know parents will be upset.

When the government has gone trillions of dollars into debt to help the economy and the number of people without jobs is still rising, you know people are scared.

When the president seeks to make a speech about personal responsibility to schoolchildren and the first instinct of some adults is to keep their children home that day because he is trying to brainwash kids, you know we’ve got a bad disconnect.

It’s hard to believe that Obama has been president for fewer than eight months. It’s been such a tumultuous time and expectations were so impossibly high for a new leader with gargantuan problems, it seems much longer.

Obama’s dramatic plunge in the polls was inevitable. The excitement over his inaugural could not be sustained in such a dreary economic climate. His job approval may even fall below 50 percent, which could come faster than the fall in popularity for all but two post-World War II presidents. Clearly, the White House is alarmed.

Obama has taken the first step toward recovery by agreeing to address both houses of Congress next Wednesday night. His senior adviser David Axelrod said the president will lay out his "overall vision" for where he wants to go on health care.

Some staunch Obama supporters insist the president has been clear all along on his plan. Few agree, including most on Capitol Hill. They want details on what he says must be in any bill that comes to his desk and what he will not accept. They demand specifics on how to pay for health insurance for all. Or, has he given up demanding it for everybody?

Many believe Obama has been too cautious about his bottom line because he fears a repeat of the Clintons’ 1994 health care overhaul debacle. He wanted the plan to be drafted in Congress, not dictated by him. But the result has been chaos, confusion and controversy.

If Obama does not get some sort of plan this autumn, he probably will get nothing. His presidency would be on the downhill slope.

Obama’s other compelling challenge is Afghanistan. We already have 100,000 troops there, but the situation is collapsing. More Americans are being killed each week. The Afghan election was a sham. The Taliban has regrouped; Afghan women are again being brutalized, dragged out of schools and jobs and locked behind doors. We don’t know al Qaeda’s plans or strength.

The British and the Soviet Union were humiliated in Afghanistan, which has always been an ungovernable First Testament amalgam of warring tribes. Many fear the United States faces the same humiliation.

If Obama wants to put thousands more in harm’s way in Afghanistan, which appears likely, he must explain what the mission is. Are we determined just to drive al Qaeda out and keep them out? Do we want to beat the Taliban into submission? How? Are we on a nation-building quest to turn Afghanistan into a thriving, prosperous democracy? How?

In other words, what would victory in Afghanistan look like? Didn’t we think we had already "won" a few years ago? We’ve already lost 5,000 Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it time to start pulling out?

Obama wants to tell American children at the start of the school year that they must study and work hard and be responsible for their own actions. Some adults are so confused and angry, they don’t want their children even listening to the president.

We are not in a good place in America right now. We need some straight answers from the White House.

(Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.)