Watching faith healers is fun, if you can overlook the pain and desperation in the eyes of the supplicants, and cheerfully endure the mosquitoes, gnats and other night bugs flying in tight formation through gaps in the tent flaps. You have to ignore reality and just enjoy the show.
But the next morning, with the sound of the singing and the scent of the sawdust lingering on the cool air, the sick, the halt and the infirm are well advised to call the doctor.
Barack Obama conducted the picture-perfect campaign with the skill and bombast that any smooth-talking piney-woods charlatan would covet, but he's learning that a president can't pack up the piano, fold his tent and hurry off to the next town (or the next state) before the sun rises. Alas, there's no doctor to call for his patient.
Bill Clinton kept us entertained with the permanent campaign, enlivened by his permanent stalking of women that rendered his administration a comic-opera interregnum of sex between the Bushes.
But that was then, when we could forgive a bubba for being Bubba because the times, they were good and hardly a-changing.
This time around the singing was enthusiastic and the praying, such as it was, was loud and the faith healer was powerful, persuasive and smooth, as only a big noise from the South Side of Chicago could be. Voters who had never heard a faith healer in full voice were easy marks. Who knew the new president and all his men wouldn't have a clue about what to do about trouble? This is the kind of ambush of events that breaks presidents and endows them with a permanent legacy of criminal incompetence. The sight of Jimmy Carter emerging from a White House visit this week set hearts ashudder.
The Keystone Kops confusion distracts public attention from the Islamic bomb in Iran, the war in Afghanistan, the confiscatory tax increases required to pay for the spending spree, renegade Muslim terrorism and the perennial question about what to do to buck up milkleg European "allies." When "trouble" is about what's no longer in Stupid's pocket, he pays attention to the outrage at hand. Money is divided by a decimal system that everybody understands. Pretty speeches, like the platform performance of a faith healer, won't cut it.
Whistling past the graveyard doesn't work, either, but it's tempting to try.
"People are not sitting around their kitchen tables thinking about AIG," says David Axelrod, the chief designer of the picture-perfect campaign. "They are thinking about their own jobs."
Rahm Emanuel, the White House tough guy, scoffs that the AIG disaster is merely "a big distraction" from the faith healer's real work of healing the economy (as if everything is not related). But the public-opinion polls, which measure the pulse of every administration, say otherwise. Gallup finds a big majority "very upset" about it, with only 11 percent "not particularly bothered." Messrs. Axelrod and Emanuel should talk to their friends to see who is oblivious of the AIG debacle, and how it happened.
This is where Mr. Obama and his friends fear most to go. The $165 million paid out in perfectly legal bonuses are only part of it. The Democrats in Congress are eager to join in the cheap-seat chorus against "greed" and "corruption," as long as nobody notices they're a crucial part of the cabal of corruption that set off the economic slide. The rumbling began with the exposure of mismanagement at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the fingerprints of Chris Dodd, Chuck Schumer and particularly Barney Frank are all over the cooked books.
Mr. Obama was elected in part because so many Americans thought he was serious about getting serious. He would relieve a weary nation of "the partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics." Some of us, to be sure, were skeptical. When you've been in Washington for a while it's difficult to be impressed by the sight of a new tent, tattered flaps fluttering in the wind, going up on that vacant lot overgrown with wild blackberries and Johnson grass just down the street.
President Obama and his men act "as if no one is watching them when they contradict their campaign promises," writes Karl Rove, the evil villain of liberal imagination, in the Wall Street Journal. "That behavior is unwittingly giving the Republicans an opening."
The Democrats can take some small comfort in knowing that Republicans know how to blow opportunities, too.