First, the President has failed to create respect or fear from allies and adversaries. Even the white house chief of staff, or his friends, put out stories that lower the stature of the president to elevate the stature of a member of his staff.
The truth is, most of the people who fear the President the most are the base of his supporters who elected Democrats in 2006 and 2006 who worry about what major principles will be compromised next.
Second, the reason the President has lost control over the political narrative and Democrats have blown a realigning moment after 2008 is that the candidate who campaigned to fight for transforming change has become a President who makes the insider deals that voters elected him to end.
The great truth about off-year elections is that they are won or lost based on turnout. The great mistake of the Obama Presidency is that the President has shown a cavalier disregard for his most fervent supporters in 2008, taking them for granted, while Rahm Emanuel views the President's base with disdain that borders on contempt.
Set aside that Dana Milbank's tribute to Emanuel in the Washington Post read like the accolades to Brezhnev in Pravda circa 1968. The larger issue is that Milbank, and Emanuel, have it backwards about what constitutes a "voice of reason" in Washington circa 2010.
Congress should pass a major health care reform bill, but where healthcare went wrong was a combination of disastrously weak negotiating (the fear and respect problem) and a strategy of secret deals that led to the surrender of more powerful and less costly reforms (the rally the voters problem).
There should be an all-out fight for the public option on the floor of the House and Senate when the reconciliation bill is considered.
The President once said insurers should support the bill because it would profit them greatly by force feeding 30 million new customers to them. Now he attacks insurers and argues Congress should pass the bill because Goldman Sachs recommends buying insurance stocks ahead of the bill's passage.
For months while the President said he supported the public option, Rahm Emanuel held secret meetings to surrender it. The New York Times reported last August that there was a backroom deal with hospital lobbyists assuming no public option, to get their support for the bill, while the President said he supported it.
Months were wasted with predictably failed negotiations with Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) who accused the president of supporting death panels.
Rahm Emanuel should not be demonized. But the President and Democrats must understand where the Obama presidency went wrong, why an enormous historical moment was lost in 2009, and how the president can prevail in 2010.
The President must choose. The rorschach presidency must end. The President was not elected to make secret deals or constantly shift tactics without paramount first principles that he was elected to fight for and rally Americans to support.
The President must toughen up and end the perception that he can be smeared by enemies, disrespected by friends, and rolled by lobbyists who are anathema to the reasons he was elected and the voters who supported him.
The real Rahm Emanuel story is that the story is not about Rahm Emanuel, who is the symptom but not the cause of the President's problem.
The real Rahm Emanuel story is that the President needs to learn from the lessons of his experience, and return to the roots of his cause in 2008.