President Obama is taking his lumps.

I am reminded of the 2001 film, Black Hawk Down, at the point in which the US raid on a Somali warlord begins to unravel and take an increasingly and ultimately disastrous turn. Remember Major General William Garrison (Sam Shepard) listening to the radio transmissions as Somali RPGs take down his second Black Hawk helicopter? Hearing this ominous development in real time, Garrison very calmly but gravely announces (in essence to himself), "we just lost the initiative."

Over the last fortnight, the President of the United States lost the initiative.

Two setbacks:

1. The President and his forces overreached on health care. Too confident in his popularity, political prowess, acumen, and overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration convinced themselves that they could sweep in, neutralize the deep-seated public apprehension that has for six decades stymied the liberal desire for national health care, and roll to victory unscathed.

Not surprisingly, the assault into treacherous territory faced much stiffer resistance than anticipated and stalled.

We got a Blackhawk down! Super 61 is down. We got a bird down in the city.

2. In an attempt to regain some momentum, the President fell back on one his favorite tactics--the prime time press conference. However, the President, uncharacteristically unsteady, unconvincing, and perhaps even boring, failed to reassert control. Much worse, at the end of his unsuccessful thrust, he paused to engage a distraction on his left flank: the matter of Henry Louis Gates.

Super 64 going down. 64 going down hard.

President Obama is in a serious and potentially lethal mess of his own making. In the midst of a precarious fight for survival for which he is not prepared, for the first time, the President must defend himself in the eyes of a suddenly skeptical American majority and face a slightly less fawning Washington press corps.

Now what? How will he react?

Two possibilities spring to mind:

1. He craters. We only met this man a short time ago. We know almost nothing about him. We have no idea his measure. But we are about to find out. And, as I say, there is the slim possibility that he is made of mush--and he withers in the face of his first real challenge. But this is quite unlikely (I would give this scenario a 5 to 10 percent chance of coming to pass).

Remember how the GOP expected Bill Clinton to cave in the face of the Republican shutdown? The party leaders believed that President Clinton was a coward, who had demonstrated his lack of manliness when he had avoided Vietnam in a less-than-honorable fashion. But the Republicans foolishly misjudged the character of Bill Clinton. For whatever reasons Clinton took such great pains to avoid the war, it had nothing to do with his political courage. In the arena of politics, Clinton turned out to be Rocky Balboa--literally impossible to knock out or outlast.

Of course, Barack Obama does not have the political experience that Bill Clinton did in 1995. No matter, do NOT expect President Obama to collapse--it remains an extremely remote possibility.

2. More likely, the President faces this crisis and rises to the occasion. More than likely, the President takes this hit and learns from his mistakes and comes away a stronger and more dangerous political opponent--better understanding the perils of overestimating his own invulnerability.

Why is the President so likely to regroup and fight his way out of this perilous political engagement? He still has the firepower. He still owns the high ground. And he still owns the airwaves.

More importantly, the economy is likely to improve in the short term. While his long-term plans are disastrous and will ultimately fail miserably, the emergency measures put in place by the Fed and the outgoing Bush administration (wisely continued by the Obama administration) have averted immediate disaster.

We are likely to see a cyclical upturn that will propel President Obama through his bid for re-election. To his further advantage, Republicans have foolishly staked their upcoming electoral bids on a continued recession. When the economy inevitably revives (at least to some extent), the President will undoubtedly take credit for sticking to his guns in the face of opposition predictions of doom. And, when this happens, we can expect the mainstream media (still friendly at heart and still invested) to obediently carry his message to the electorate. We can also expect the Republicans to do their best to convince the voters that the economy remains in the shallows (to no avail). Remember how well this worked in 1996?

Bottom Line: we are finally seeing the end of the Obama Honeymoon--but we should not delude ourselves. The President still holds all the high cards. Even more telling, the loyal opposition is not playing its hand very astutely.