At least we don’t have media outlets attempting to play Chip Diller and tell us how popular Barack Obama is, but the alternative so far hasn’t been much better. CNN’s Julian Zelizer attempts to explain that Obama’s problem is that he has the misfortune to have been a very successful President while coincidentally having a high unemployment rate. Putting aside Zelizer’s apparent disconnect between Obama’s policies and that unemployment rate, the measure of success is part of Obama’s problem — and that of other media analysts attempting to explain the obvious:
What explains this paradox? How should we understand the fate of a president and a party who have been relatively successful at passing their agenda, yet don’t seem to be enjoying an electoral bounce?
The quick answer is, of course, jobs.
With the unemployment rate over 9 percent, many Americans are unhappy and scared. But there is more to it than that.
Several factors have lined up to put the president in this spot.
The first factor has to do with President Obama’s decision to focus on controversial issues that he felt were important to the nation, even if they were not the most beneficial issues for his party. In other words, Obama selected issues such as health care and financial regulation that were sure to stimulate conservative opposition and cause concern among moderates.
At the same time, the president is a pragmatic politician who has been willing to cut deaerls to survive a notoriously difficult legislative process. In making those compromises, he has often angered many of his supporters on the left. The strategy of going big, yet doing so through big compromises, has resulted in an energized conservative movement, uneasy independent voters and a frustrated liberal base.
The main hurdle that most analysts can’t clear is the idea that passing an agenda through Congress equals success. It does — when a President passes an agenda on which he specifically ran in a manner that the President built into the platform. That’s not what happened in Obama’s first 18 months at all. Instead of being a post-partisan centrist who would reach across the aisle, Obama shoved his agenda down the throats of his opposition in Congress. Republicans got cut out of negotiations on the stimulus package — a decision that Democrats should now regret — and Obama scoffed “I won” when challenged on it.
Second, that agenda turned out to be highly unpopular, and Obama and Congress pushed it anyway. When Americans began reading ObamaCare, they discovered that they didn’t like it. It became so unpopular that a majority of Americans want it repealed as soon as possible. The push to adopt it motivated millions of Americans into organizing on the grassroots level. And yet Obama didn’t bother to listen at all but instead demanded passage of a takeover of the American healthcare system that less than 40% of the nation wanted.
With that in mind — with Obama basically telling the other 60% of the country to pound sand — why should anyone be surprised at his falling numbers? It’s actually amazing that he’s still above 40% after that.
And, of course, we have the economy, and not just the jobs. Obama’s gimmicky stimuli have all petered out and left us in the same position as last summer, but about a trillion dollars more in debt. Instead of taking the opportunity to get state governments to reorganize more efficiently, we bailed out the bureaucracies for just a year and stuck the tab on our Bank of Beijing credit cards. We now have fewer people in the workforce as a percentage of the civilian population than we have seen in a generation, and still have a high unemployment rate despite the lower level of people in the workforce. On top of that, Obama just spent the last 90 days proving that he has no executive crisis-management skills — but does have a pretty good golf game.
There is no mystery to Obama’s falling popularity. It comes as a consequence of his incompetence and political tin ear.