WASHINGTON -- Sometimes there are days here that sum up the state of politics and the condition of the country.
Today is one: While Democrats in Congress fight a rear-guard action against $700 billion in new tax cuts for the rich, and the city frets over the $14 trillion national debt, and officials announce that the unemployment rose to 9.8 percent, President Obama is gone -- off in Afghanistan bucking up troops in an admittedly unwinnable war that is now the longest and costliest (perhaps $2 trillion, depending on your math) in our history.
No one moment has more vividly demonstrated the predicament the president is in as a result of having accepted the basic fiscal and military parameters of the presidency that preceded him.
Accused of being a radical by the right, Obama in fact has allowed himself to be trapped, with a few notable exceptions (health care and food safety being two), in a slightly more bland rendition of a third Bush term.
The Obama administration is crowing about TARP bailouts -- a Bush-era invention. It has committed to staying actively involved until 2014 in the war in Afghanistan -- a Bush-era invention. And Team Obama refused to threaten an all-out fight against a top-end income tax-cut -- a Bush-era invention.
The inevitable result: 21st century economic stasis and more runaway increases in federal debt -- two more Bush-era inventions.
It's laudable and necessary for the president to visit the troops at this time of year. He specifically wanted to thank those involved in his surge there, and he brings with him the fervent thanks of all of us. Their sacrifice is beyond the imagining of most of us.
But Obama's sudden trip there, at a time when so much else is under siege here, shows precisely where we are right now. We have a beleaguered president who needs to show that he can command, or at least influence, the course of history, and who in political terms has to show the bravery, guts and can-do focus of the soldiers standing in front of him.