The small handful of long time sufferers that read my little blog will remember that following Obama’s election my friend Jill and I came up with a list of predictions with the aid of our magic Ben Bernanke Bobblehead. I am happy to report that we seem on target to a grand self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words it is quite delightful to be correct even if it is only in my own estimation. At least the first part of our prophecies is coming to fruition.
We predicted that Obama would be swept into office on a near tidal wave of rock star popularity mingled with an electric charge of extreme optimism. However, as the weeks wore on into months Obama’s first year in office would end with a dramatic decline in his popularity and approval ratings. We suspected that some of it would be due to his ambitious agenda, much of which would be met with intense opposition by Republicans. Republicans are proving that they can be very contentious and sore losers. They also have a shrill voice and a surprising lack of empathy given the large number of them that profess Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. But, religion does tend to make people retarded.
The other issue for Obama that we saw was that the level of expectation and hope was extremely unrealistic. It was hope based on denial of how our body politic operates and the gamesmanship required to survive. Approval ratings are very important for a political candidate, especially the president whose overall performance, or at least perception of his overall performance, affects how his party as a whole does in general elections. But, for reasons we will see below these ratings do not necessarily predict such things as getting reelected for a second term. It may be more important for congressional leaders then the president.
In other words the higher Obama’s approval rating the higher the chances are that incumbent Democrats will hold on to their seats in the house and senate come midterms. The general wisdom seems to be that a minimum 61% is needed to ensure a continued victory. If the mid term elections were held last April this would have been no problem as Obama’s approval rating was slightly over the minimum target. He could have run the country with one hand tied behind his back, juggling chainsaws with his free hand all while riding a unicycle on a tightrope. Naturally the tightrope would be over a pool of genetically mutated sharks. Obama is just that kind of Muslim terrorist superstar.
The gang at Real Clear Politics state that Obama is currently at 50%. More accurately, 49.5% generally approve while 45.5% disapprove. Not too shabby given the fickle nature of politics. The RCP stats are an average of several polls including the big mamba daddy of all polls – The Gallup. However, despite this Obama’s ratings have slipped below the threshold where an easy midterm for Democrats could be expected.
Fluctuating approval ratings are to be expected. Even Ronald Reagan, one of the most popular presidents (sorry liberals he was whether we like it or not) suffered from very low ratings especially during the lame duck years of his second term. But, when he handed over the ranch to Bill Clinton it was at 52%. Realistically speaking he didn’t fair much better than other post World War II presidents. The real stand out is Kennedy who had 70%. But, his assassination, among other factors, has tended to create a more mythical figure that the general public remembers more fondly then we do the historical one.
Lest we think that low approval ratings spells doom for Obama’s chances for a second term let’s bear in mind that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both had significant fluctuations in their approval ratings and both served 2 terms. George W. Bush – for Christ’s sake – served 2 terms as unbelievable is that is to so many of us. Clinton by far was more popular then Regan whose maximum rating hit 71% (Reagan’s never exceeded 68%). It would seem that we will forgive – even overlook – a president with a rouge penis quicker than things such as Iran-Contra scandals. But prosperity may have had more to do with that as we will see suggested below. Reagan’s years were years of recession.
Obama has a much larger challenge than Clinton. Approval ratings demonstrate nothing more than the fickle nature of public opinion. Despite the scandalous nature of Clinton’s presidency the general public was feeling secure and prosperous. These were the years where the technology bubble was creating false prosperity and people had money. It was the years before the World Trade Center bombing, the war on terror and our occupation of Iraq. The president’s scandals were on a more personal nature and while conservatives liked to make a big deal about Clinton’s moral character – the vast majority of us didn’t seem to give a shit. This was the last decade of America’s yuppie innocence. We were untouchable and invincible. Bombs were going off in Africa and some obscure former Eastern Bloc nation – with names like Bosnia. But who the hell even knew where Bosnia or cities such as Sarajevo were anyway.
Obama was swept into the top office of a nation in very big trouble. The greed and gluttony of Wall Street and the near collapse of our banking system is still threatening our economy. Unemployment rates are near Depression Era rates. Economists are predicting a bleak decade ahead with recovery being slow and unpredictable.
We are still in Iraq and the president is escalating our presence in Afghanistan. We tried to warn our friends in the anti-war lobby to expect some disappointment in their efforts to end our involvement in the Middle East. We pontificated that despite what they felt the president promised (real or imagined) once he took office he would become aware of information that he did not previously have. This information could change everything.
We still like Obama, but we are realistic about what he may or may not be able to accomplish. My biggest criticism of Obama has been his loquacious elegance and his overly ambitious agenda. The man can eloquently say absolutely nothing better than anyone in public office today. The tasks Obama is facing throughout his presidency are going to require him to be part cheerleader so this skill (often thought of a statesmanship) is necessary. But to a public who believes they want to the truth its going to be an arrow of cynicism he will need to dodge.
The fickle public doesn’t want the truth. They want a car in the garage and a chicken in every pot (today – a blackberry in every hand). Unfortunately, this leaves Obama sometimes using political doublespeak. In one breath he is bolstering our enthusiasm for “change we can believe in” and then in the next telling us that there are no easy solutions and that recovery will take time and sacrifice. American’s don’t like sacrifice and we definitely don’t like waiting, especially when bill collectors are beating down the doors to get us to pay bills with money we don’t have. We predicted this in December 2008.
Magic Ben Bernanke Bobble Head still predicts that Obama will be a two-term president. Our little wooden homunculus is still holding fast to his belief that the second half of Obama’s first term will be tense and he will struggle with approval ratings as the GOP tries desperately to win back the Oval Office for Christ. But, in the end he will win a second term, however not with the great fanfare and clamor that he won his history setting first term.
Magic Ben Bernanke Bobble Head tells us that the biggest hurdle Obama will have to overcome is the unemployment rate. As the incumbent president he is likely to take the blame from the large number of unemployed people and underemployed people for their dramatic reversal of fortunes. A once affluent people who now struggle to keep a roof over their family’s heads and food on the table tend to become irrational when they see their worst fears manifesting in their lives.
Part of Obama’s challenge will be his milquetoast foreign policy, most especially in the area of trade. China is a huge thorn in the lion’s paw. His “war efforts” and concerns with Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs could distract him from making significant gains in the economic lives of Americans. Let’s hope he remembers the painful lesson that his predecessor seemed to ignore – put American lives and the American economy first. Feed Americans first and the rest of the world from the table scraps. If the United States is going to maintain its status as the world’s largest superpower than we must restore our economy and put Americans to work and back on the road to prosperity otherwise we fall.
The Republicans are hoping that you will buy into their fear mongering. They want to get the message out there that there is going to be another “GOP revolution” in congress like the one Clinton experienced during his first midterm elections as president. Perhaps, that may happen. There is a lot of speculation regarding the decisions of Senator Dodd et al who have announced they will not seek another term. But, this has more to do with the perception of their performance among in their constituencies then over all exasperation of Democratic performance at a national level.
The Republicans know this. That is why they are taking umbrage with Michael Steele for his recent statement that Republicans will not win back their conservative majorities in 2010. Magic Ben Bernanke Bobble Head is non committal when we pose this scenario to him. Republicans still don’t have a unifying message. They are flailing about like Democrats during The Kerry – Bush presidential race. They are the “We hate Obama and want him to fail party” but they have no central message or agenda other than to vehemently oppose everything that the Obama Administration and Democrats attempt to do. Health Care reform anyone? There is a political farce if ever I saw one.
If Republicans don’t start presenting themselves in a more rational way their only hope is that the independent voters who helped Obama win in 2008 will lose faith.
For Further Reading
Debunking Reagan’s Popularity
Reagan: Media, Myth and Reality