Last week I wrote two columns, the first arguing that Obama is “just plain bad at politics,” and the second asserting that his speech was meant to stabilize his position with the left. The two link up here: the speech might have been a good tactical move in pursuit of holding his Democratic base, but focusing on the base is a terrible strategy, considering his standing with the center of the electorate. Put simply, Obama has a very real problem with independent voters. He has had that problem for a long time – almost 24 months, in fact – and yet he and his team have done very little about it. One would have thought that the nineteen-point margin that independents handed the GOP in the 2010 House election would have alerted the White House to the trouble, as well as the fact that this swing helped give the Republicans the single largest House pickup in generations. But apparently not.
Three previous presidents were in this kind of polling jam at this point in their administrations: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Reagan and Clinton both tracked back to the political center after their midterm drubbings, and Reagan had the benefit of a V-shaped recovery that was just starting at this point in his tenure. Carter, on the other hand, drifted sideways, as did the economy, which fell into recession by 1980. Who does Obama look like right today? I’d say Carter. Economic growth is slowing down, inflation is on the rise, the deficit is out of control, swing voters have gone away, and the guy in the Oval Office doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea what to do about any of it.