At every turn, things were spinning out of control

Reuters

A Boston Red Sox hat is seen among a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings on Boylston street in Boston, Massachusetts April 18, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Chaos. Things seemed to be spinning out of control on many fronts last week.

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  • It was a comfort to see how well bystanders and first responders reacted to the Boston Marathon bombings.

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  • Things aren't that far out of control, yet. But this hasn't been a good week for Obama or for America.

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Chaos. Things seemed to be spinning out of control on many fronts this week.

Starting of course with the Boston Marathon bombing Monday. The bombers chose a significantly festive time and place for their attack.

The marathon is held every year on Patriot's Day, the Massachusetts state holiday commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. Even before the identity of the bombers became known, it seemed likely that they were enemies of America.

And their attack was a reminder that this free and open country remains a soft target. There is no way we can be entirely safe.

If the marathon bombings brought back memories of the Sept. 11 attacks, the news on Tuesday and Wednesday that letters containing the poison ricin were sent to Sen. Roger Wicker and President Obama brought back memories of the anthrax-laden letters discovered the week after 9/11.

It was a comfort to see how well bystanders and first responders reacted to the marathon bombings and how law enforcement personnel, led by the FBI, were careful to avoid premature announcements.

Comforting also were Barack Obama's appropriate remarks in Boston on Thursday and the release by the FBI, after his departure, of photos of the two suspects.

Law enforcement invited the public to supply information and identify the killers. This contrasted favorably with the way law enforcement quarantined information about the Beltway snipers in October 2002.

But in the meantime, other things spun out of control.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted down gun control proposals, with the closest vote coming on the background check provision sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

In the Rose Garden, Obama spoke angrily and called the votes "pretty shameful." But they were an inevitable response to his cynical exploitation of the grief of parents of the Newtown victims to get votes for measures that would not have prevented that or other mass killings.

Obama made much of polls showing 90 percent support for background checks. But those polls didn't measure the response to arguments against those measures.

This was a test of Organizing for America, the offspring of the Obama presidential campaign. The idea is that OFA could pressure members of Congress just as it had turned out voters for Obama last fall.

But that ignored some relevant political numbers. The Obama campaign did motivate enough voters to carry 332 electoral votes. But those votes were heavily clustered in central cities and university towns.

Obama carried only 26 states. They elect only 52 senators, well under the 60 votes he needed in the Senate on gun control. And he carried only 209 congressional districts, less than a majority of the House.

Wednesday also saw an extraordinary outburst in the Senate Finance Committee's hearings on Obamacare, as committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "I just see a train wreck coming down."

HHS, he noted, is way behind schedule on issuing regulations implementing the health care law. Small-business men in Montana, he said, don't know how they can comply.

"The administration's public-information campaign on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act deserves a failing grade," he told Sebelius. "You haven't given me any data. You just give me concepts, frankly."

Liberals grumbled that Baucus was skittish about 2014, when he is up for re-election in a state that voted 55 to 42 percent for Mitt Romney and threatened to run ads against him.

Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo pointed out that Baucus was one of the chief authors of the law whose implementation he was now criticizing. Nonetheless, Obamacare seemed to be spinning out of control.

Similar disarray was apparent on foreign policy in hearings Thursday, as noted by the American Interest's Walter Russell Mead.

Secretary of State John Kerry testified that we are working "very, very closely" with "the moderate legitimate opposition" to the Assad regime in Syria. But Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey testified that it was getting harder to "clearly identify the right people" in the opposition than it was six months ago.

George W. Bush and his party suffered at the polls in his second term after things seemed to be spinning out of control in New Orleans and Iraq.

Things aren't that far out of control, yet. But this hasn't been a good week for Obama or for America.

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  • Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.

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