The essential (and crippling) difference between Obama’s trajectory and Reagan’s is that the latter’s strategy succeeded economically. Indeed, it would not have succeeded politically if it had failed economically. But there is very little chance that Obama’s economic policy will work at all, let alone so well that the increased revenue it generates will be sufficient to bridge the fiscal gap outlined above. In those circumstances, Obama will face two sets of spiraling costs: the rising costs of the entitlement programs and the higher interest costs of his increased borrowing. And that combination is a rising tide that swamps all boats.

How will the president cope with such discouraging trends? Well, he might say sternly that he, for one, will never join those nattering nabobs of negativism who count America out. Or he could perhaps venture that where others see gathering storms, he sees beyond them to the sun breaking through the clouds onto the mountain tops. Or, if things look really bleak, maybe he will resort to the Dictionary of Quotations.

A Talleyrand gem should do it. When a French revolutionary asked him how to win converts to his new-and-improved religion, the wise diplomat replied: “Nothing simpler. Get yourself crucified and rise again on the third day.”