Gallup: Obama's job approval the lowest at this point for any modern president except ... Carter

In all seriousness, it’s amazing that his numbers are as high as they are. Never in my experience has the country seemed so close to catastrophe in so many ways. Europe could implode in weeks and sink the world into depression; Congress can’t muster the will to slow the growth of debt that’s already soared past $15 trillion and triggered one downgrade; Iran’s seemingly at a point of no return on nuclear weapons; Syria’s ready to explode all over the Middle East; the Arab Spring is turning into the best thing that ever happened to Muslim fundamentalists; and Pakistan is more Pakistan-ish than ever. (I haven’t even mentioned protracted gruesome unemployment.) Not all of it is Obama’s fault, but you know how it is with the presidency: If it happened on your watch, you pay the price politically. That Mayan 2012 prophesy is looking better every day, yet somehow The One’s polls are still just two or three good news cycles away from being above water. Remarkable. If China invaded Hawaii tomorrow, maybe he’d drop to 40 percent.

That Carter spike between November and December looks odd but it’s easily explained: His numbers briefly surged on a tide of patriotism after the Iran embassy takeover before disintegrating the following year. Anyway, I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which America’s position actually looks better 11 months from now instead of worse and … it’s not easy. Maybe the eurozone holds together for the time being and the PIIGS muddle through with austerity measures, but austerity hasn’t solved Greece’s problems and the continent already seems headed for a new recession. Maybe the sabotage program inside Iran will manage to slow their bomb research, but no one thinks it’ll stop them; they’ll advance, just at a more plodding pace. And there’s no realistic chance of rolling back the Islamist tide in northern Africa or, if Assad falls, in Syria, at least in the near term. The only hope for positive change is, of course, a genuine U.S. economic recovery, which becomes less likely as Europe’s economy shrinks, and the possibility that having U.S. troops out of Afghanistan will stabilize Pakistan a bit by reassuring them of their influence over that country. Although even that’s dodgy: Do we want a “more stable” Pakistan? Would a more stable Pakistan be more or less likely to engage in provocations against India?

Exit question: How successful would President Romney or President Gingrich be in reversing any of this? Kickstarting economic growth would be a huge accomplishment, tantamount to deflecting one killer asteroid while it’s still in Earth’s outer orbit. What about the other 20 or so headed our way? Pessimism fee-vah.

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