A trilogy of troubles:

1. When a president has to go begging to his own political base, it's a sign of trouble.

Barack Obama owes his '08 presidential triumph to the antiwar Democratic voters who propelled him to the nomination. He was the candidate who best articulated their hatred of the deception-fueled Iraq disaster. But today, with memories of that Bush-Cheney war still fresh, the antiwar Democratic base is one big reason why Obama's bid for a Syria war authorization is seriously imperiled in the House.

Given the depth of opposition among House Republicans - many of whom will vote No simply because Obama wants a Yes; many of whom will vote No because they sincerely regret the wasted expenditure of trillions in Iraq, and don't want to risk a repeat - Obama clearly needs the liberal Democrats to fall in line. To eke out a House win for an air campaign against the thuggish Syrian regime, he can afford very few defectors.

But there could be as many as 40 - for Obama, a potentially fatal number.

The rebels are likely to include Barbara Lee of California, who worries that the "collateral damage" from a military strike could increase "the possibility of a regional conflict breaking out." And Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who says, "The administration can tell us all they want that this will be discreet, targeted and limited to military facilities. Sometimes military operations have a strange way of getting out of hand." And various members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who believe that the money for war would be better spent in their own needy communities. And Alan Grayson of Florida ("People just think it's not our problem, and we're not going to do any good"), who has even launched an antiwar website.

It's a sign of trouble that Secretary of State John Kerry has to conduct a conference call with liberal Democratic members, as he did the other day, and ratchet up the rhetoric by warning that a No vote would be tantamount to "a Munich moment" - a reference to the British indulgence of Hitler in 1938. It's a sign of trouble that the Obama administration has to dispatch its U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, to pitch the case for war at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, as she's slated to do today.

The House math tells the tale. Most of the party's swing-district House moderates were tossed from office in the 2010 midterm Republican landslide. The remaining Democrats, 200 in number, are largely denizens of deep-blue liberal districts where antipathy toward another Middle East war is particularly strong. If they're House veterans, they were likely seared first-hand by the lessons of Iraq; if they're relative newbies, they were likely elected in 2006 or 2008 because their voters were seared by the lessons of Iraq.

Now they're trapped between two impulses: Either they cast a vote that mirrors the sentiments of their antiwar constituents, or they buck their constituents by loyally backing a Democratic president. But the problem is, this Democratic president rose to power on the basis of his opposition to American military muscle in the Middle East - yet here he is, asking for a green light.

In a 2002 speech assailing the march to war in Iraq, Obama the budding politician declared: "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars." But he has yet to persuade the liberal rank and file that his proposed war qualifies as smart.

 

2. When a candidate engages in extended verbal fisticuffs with a voter, it's a sign of trouble.

Hey, remember Anthony Weiner? New York mayoral hopeful who seemed to have a shot at winning next Tuesday's Democratic primary until he was outed for yet again flashing his stimulus package on social media? His campaign has been cratering for weeks, awaiting only his own coup de grace.

It's a truism that a successful candidate is typically a happy warrior, someone of good cheer who resists provocation, who braves insults with a smile and a blissful goodbye wave. And then you have someone like Weiner.

For a tutorial on what not to do on the trail, check out this week's street theater. Weiner wandered into an Orthodox Jewish bakery, where a customer called him a "scumbag" (granted, that wasn't nice) and grumbled that "you're married to an Arab" (granted, that was racist). A normal candidate would just let the guy have his say, end of story. But this candidate pivots at the door, calls the guy a "jackass," and proceeds to go mano a mano for three minutes, assailing the voter for his "ignorance."

Say good night, Anthony.

 

3. When a newspaper undercuts its own reason for existence, it's a sign of trouble.

Next Monday, readers of The Philadelphia Inquirer's print edition will turn to the editorial page, then flick their eyes to the opposite page, where lots of letters and guest columns are always published....only to discover that - presto! - the "op-ed" page has ceased to exist.

I hesitate to knock the Inquirer - where I worked full-time until 2006, where I wrote columns under contract through the end of 2012 - but it's alarming to witness an historic contraction of the paper's core function. Letters to the editor, with sufficient space for a range of views, are a vital public service. Local and syndicated columns, with sufficient space for a range of views, are a vital public service. As editorial writer Melanie Burney - now exiled to New Jersey, courtesy of the shrinkage - said last week, "It is a sad day for journalism when a major daily newspaper loses a significant component of its voice and public conscience."

I'll yield the floor to Jeff Bezos, the Amazon mogul who now owns The Washington Post. Earlier this week, referring to newspapers in general, he warned:

"No business can continue to shrink. That can only go on for so long before irrelevancy sets in."

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