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High expectations dashed, on the gridiron and in Washington [Commentary]

The peril of high expectations, in sports as in politics, was emphatically driven home Sunday to millions who watched the Denver Broncos' and Peyton Manning's performance in the Super Bowl. The premature anointment of Mr. Manning as the greatest quarterback of all time went a-glimmering as he and his teammates were humiliated by the Seattle Seahawks in a 43-8 pasting.

Not only were Mr. Manning fans disappointed, but relatively neutral rooters were as well. They were led to expect one of the closest Super Bowls in the event's 48-year history, between the top-rated offensive and defensive teams in the National Football League. Instead, what they got was a blowout by a swarming Seattle defense.

While Mr. Manning managed to complete a Super Bowl record of 34 passes, most were for short gains that could not add much luster to his previously sterling record and reputation as a play-calling wizard.

Among the at-home viewers who could commiserate with him was President Barack Obama, currently also suffering through a similar shocking decline in expectations among his faithful.

It all followed a successful re-election last year and the humbling of his congressional opponents in the government shutdown they caused trying to defund Obamacare. The president thus was approaching 2014 with a slowly recovering economy and hopes of getting on with his own domestic agenda.

But then came his administration's botched rollout of the health-care law, which continues to plague him. Mr. Obama insisted in his State of the Union address that the worst was over. His much-anticipated speech essentially brushed off Congress, as he confirmed he would be relying more on his own executive powers to achieve second-term gains.

A chorus of Democratic disappointment is being heard now that the go-it-alone initiatives he is laying out are too little and narrowly aimed to alleviate the kitchen-table needs of the poor, unemployed and underemployed. And Mr. Obama can't be pleased that longtime leaders of the party's progressive wing like Rep. Henry Waxman of California are retiring, as he himself is now a lame duck.

It wasn't too long ago that Barack Obama was emulating Peyton Manning as a one-of-a-kind leader who was going to light up Washington, with a Pied Piper image and a new army of young, minority and ethnic voters behind his agenda of change.

However, his long legislative struggle against partisan congressional opposition has taken a heavy toll on him as a competent administrator, particularly in the wake of the Obamcare meltdown. His honesty, too, is now under scrutiny.

Mr. Obama's achievements in foreign policy have been challenged as well. The war in Iraq flares up in pockets, and the one in Afghanistan goes on as the U.S. combat troop pullout proceeds.

All this uncertainty is playing out in advance of the November congressional elections, and the specters of continued Republican control of House and the Democrats' possible loss of the Senate raise the prospect that Obama's final two years in office will remain bogged down by legislative inertia and obstruction.

Meanwhile, more and more Democratic attention is being siphoned off by another premature anointment, on the playing field of 2016 Democratic politics. The unofficial but uninhibited campaign for the presidential nomination of Hilary Clinton is taking on steam, as she plays less and less convincingly the role of the fickle object of party affections.

The president's own prestige will not be so easily restored as Peyton Manning's might next season with a return to form -- and a better Denver defense. Quarterback Obama is stuck on a tougher playing field, with the clock running down.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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