Why flip-flop on specific policies one at a time, when a candidate can do so much more efficiently by calling a general retreat?  Less than 48 hours after telling CNBC that his health-insurance plan was fully funded and would not get affected by a massive government bailout of the credit markets, Obama has reversed himself and put his expensive federal programs on hold.  He also criticized his own running mate on the Today show this morning:

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in an interview aired Tuesday that the cost of the mortgage bailout plan may rein in his ambitious plans for health care, energy, education and infrastructure.

Obama’s comments reflect the possible new constraints on the next president’s ability to expand or start programs or cut taxes. The government financial interventions of the past two weeks could cost more than $1 trillion.

Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that he doesn’t expect the mortgage plan to cost the full $700 billion right away, and all the money won’t be lost.

“Does that mean that I can do everything that I’ve called for in this campaign right away?” Obama said. “Probably not. I think we’re going to have to phase it in. And a lot of it’s going to depend on what our tax revenues look like.”

Now Obama wants us to forget the massive spending that he proposed because the Treasury bailout will pre-empt it.  Okay, fair enough.  But even before the credit market meltdown, we faced (and still face) an entitlement program meltdown of even larger dimensions.  Neither candidate has adequately addressed that, but at least John McCain acknowledges its existence and its size.  Obama has campaigned on adding to that burden without the least thought of reform, at least until he belatedly realized that the money simply doesn’t exist now, and it never really did.

The most amazing part of this is that he reached this conclusion not at the start of the current meltdown, but more than a week later.  The general parameters of the bailout were widely known on Friday afternoon.  Sunday morning, Obama tells John Harwood that it won’t affect his big-spending policies, since they’re “paid for”, in his words.  By Tuesday morning, Obama’s hitting reverse.  What happened to all that funding?  Obama realized that the meltdown will rock the economy, and all of those soak-the-rich tax increases will produce little or no revenue — and imposing them will worsen an economy threatening to go into shock.

That led to Obama’s criticism of his running mate, less than 24 hours after Biden criticized Obama.  Obama slammed McCain for initially opposing the bailout and then changing his mind, arguing that McCain should have waited for all of the information to come to him before taking a public position.  Matt Lauer then pointed out that Joe Biden had done exactly the same thing:

But Lauer pointed out that Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), had initially said the same thing – on “Today,” no less.

“I think that in that situation, I think Joe should have waited, as well,” Obama said.

It’s very rare for one ticket mate to publicly second-guess the other. But on the “CBS Evening News” on Monday, Biden had chastised his own campaign for a TV ad portraying McCain as a computer illiterate. Biden backed off his criticism of the ad in a statement the campaign released three hours later.

Obama appears to be seriously adrift.  Circumstances have forced him out of the entire range of his domestic policies, including a middle-class tax cut, while the two Democrats seem more at war with each other than with Republicans.  What argument does he have left for the Presidency — his deep executive and foreign-policy experience?