Obama's Thanksgiving turkey

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WASHINGTON -- Barely a year after President Obama's re-election, he sat down for his Thanksgiving dinner with some policy achievements to be thankful for, but with the bone of one major political turkey sticking in his throat.

That would be, obviously, the disappointingly bungled rollout of his health insurance program, seized on by critics and many supporters as well as a spoiler of the holiday spirit. The false start has already generated judgments or at least predictions of a failed presidency, with three more years left to put it back on track.

For most of the first year of Obama's second term, while Republican obstructionism in Congress continued, the president appeared to be making progress toward some of his key long-term goals, at home and abroad.

His prized Affordable Care Act had survived the opposition's drive to repeal and replace it and more recently the attempt to defund it. The Republicans in Congress got themselves a major black eye for their willingness to shut down the government over the issue. The economy at long last was beginning to show signs of recovery, though short of coping with joblessness.

Abroad, the American involvement in Iraq had been seriously diminished and was on course to do the same in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was threatening to balk on signing a critical security agreement with the Obama administration, but the wheels for the U.S. withdrawal were in motion.

In Syria, Obama had abruptly stopped short of military action against the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons, surprisingly gaining a commitment from it to dismantled its cache and production facilities.

On the very eve of Thanksgiving, Obama's secretary of state, John Kerry, delivered a deal wherein Iran agreed to a six-month hiatus in its bid for a nuclear weapons capability, in return for somewhat eased economic sanctions. Taken together, all this seemed to bode well for a more productive second Obama term.

But the disastrous domestic fiasco of the dysfunctional Obamacare website now threatens to trump it all. It has confused and disappointed prospective applicants, while delivering sudden political relief to the critics and would-be destroyers of the controversial plan. Many who worked tirelessly to kill it now cry crocodile tears because it wasn't working to enable millions of the uninsured to sign on.

The prevailing Washington climate of extreme partisanship, marked by the conservative Republican campaign to block virtually any Obama initiative, has reached a new low. Some opposition party leaders suggest that the Iranian deal was no more than a smokescreen to cloud the view of the botched Obamacare rollout.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas suggested the diplomatic breakthrough was intended to "distract attention" from the glaring domestic failure. Other Republicans compared the deal with British prime minister's caving in to Adolph Hitler in their 1938 Munich pact that handed Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.

As Thanksgiving Day came and went, there was no burying the hatchet on the political warfare on Capitol Hill. Democrats in the Senate, with Obama's blessing, further inflamed the partisanship by invoking the so-called nuclear option, allowing a majority vote to kill off debate on executive and judicial nominations. The wails of the Republican minority, seeing their obstructionism undermined, echoed through the chamber.

In all, instead of President Obama being able to give thanks for finally beginning to turn the corner on the multitude of inherited political woes he had to tackle in his first term, he finds himself stymied by his own administration's mishandling of his prime domestic initiative.

It may seem to some to be ironic, if not comic, that after nearly five years of struggling to get on with his own political agenda for change, Barack Obama is ensnarled in a circumstance that challenges not his intellect nor his good intentions, but his competence as a manager.

As he has taken major steps to reduce American involvement in the wars and conflicts abroad, he is being tripped up at home by failing to make sure that his own responsibilities in what is increasingly seen as his "legacy" undertaking are efficiently accomplished. It's enough to give a president post-Thanksgiving indigestion.

(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.)

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Johns Hopkins settlement [Poll]

Johns Hopkins Hospital has agreed to a $190 million payout to settle claims from up to 8,000 women who may have been surreptitiously recorded during pelvic exams by gynecologist Dr. Nikita A. Ley, who committed suicide last year. Is the figure too little, too much or appropriate?

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