“These are legitimate crises in their own right that have to be dealt with by the president. That’s his job,” said AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer, a White House ally who blames the GOP for blocking the president’s economic agenda. “But that has dampened his ability to speak out on other issues.”

At a fundraising event in New York in September, Obama talked about what he described as “disquiet” in the country despite the improving economy. The reason for that, he said, is that most people “just think government doesn’t seem to be capable of working anymore.”

He blamed Republicans, but it is the president and his party who may pay the heaviest price for that public perception.