[StBernard] Obama's Summer of Discontent

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sat Jul 18 10:44:10 EDT 2009

Obama's Summer of Discontent
Peter Wehner Web Exclusive

President Obama remains in a fairly strong -- but no longer commanding --
political position. The RCP poll average of Obama's job approval rating is
56 percent. But if one carefully tracks the evolution of public sentiment
since Obama assumed office, one would notice several trends -- nascent but
discernible -- that should concern Obama and encourage conservatives.

The first has to do with the basic philosophical orientation of Americans. A
recent Gallup poll found 40 percent of Americans described their political
views as conservative, while only 21 percent as liberal. Gallup also found
that Americans, by a two-to-one margin, say their political views in recent
years have become more conservative rather than more liberal. And a Pew
survey released in May found that since the election, there has been "no
consistent movement away from conservatism, nor a shift toward liberalism."

What this means, I think, is that Obama's victory in 2008, while impressive,
did not represent an ideological shift. If Obama were to succeed as
president, his victory may lead to a greater popularity of the ideas he
embodies. Or, if he fails, it may result in the opposite: a further
discrediting of liberalism. For now, though, it's fair to say that Obama's
win was based on two factors, in roughly equal measure: his personal appeal,
impressive political talents, and ability to project an image at odds with
his ideology, combined with a public disenchanted with the GOP. It was not
the result of a resurgence in liberalism.

Second, Republicans -- while still trailing Democrats in party
identification by a wide margin and with their party's "brand" at its lowest
popularity in decades -- are gaining ground on the issues. According to a
New York Times poll earlier this month, almost seven in ten people expressed
"a great deal" or "quite a bit" of concern about the expanding role of the
federal government under Obama. Scott Rasmussen's trust-on-issues polling,
comparing Republicans and Democrats on ten issues, showed Democrats leading
on all ten in October 2008.

But earlier this month, we have seen almost a complete reversal; Republicans
were leading on eight. When it comes to party affiliation, Democrats have
lost more support this year than Republicans (though they started from a
higher base line). In addition, Republicans are closing the gap and, in some
instances, pulling slightly ahead of Democrats in generic Congressional
polls. And in two important governors' races this year, Bob McDonnell, a
Republican, leads Creigh Deeds, a Democrat, in Virginia, while another
Republican, Chris Christie, leads the incumbent Jon Corzine in New Jersey by
around double digits.

Third, President Obama has lost noticeable altitude in the last month,
particularly among independent voters. For example, the Diageo/Hotline Poll,
conducted from July 9-13, found that the percentage of American voters who
approve of the job Obama is doing has dropped nine points, from 65 percent
in early June to 56 percent today. The decrease in Obama's job-approval
ratings is being driven in part by a 15 point drop in support among
independent voters -- a finding that must be causing some alarm at the White
House. (The poll also found that only 39 percent of voters are confident the
stimulus plan will be successful in turning around the economy, a decrease
of 13 percentage points from June.) A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll
found that among independents, Obama's job-approval rating has fallen 15
points in the span of two months, to the mid-40's, with more than six in ten
independents saying Obama is a liberal, which is clearly a source of concern
to them.

In arguably the most important swing state in the presidential election,
Ohio, Obama has a 49-44 percent approval rating -- with only one in three
independents in the Buckeye State approving of Obama's handling of the
economy and only 38 percent approving of the job he is doing. And a recent
Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll shows that 29 percent of
the nation's voters strongly approve of the way Obama is performing his role
as president, while 36 percent strongly disapprove. "Dark clouds are visible
on the horizon," is how William Galston, a top aide in the Clinton White
House, put it when analyzing recent polling data.

These trends are now shaping the views of lawmakers. For example, we are
seeing "Blue Dog" Democrats express increasing concern about Obama's agenda
-- and Representative Dan Boren, one of the most conservative Democrats in
the House, has now gone after Obama by name, saying:

Barack Obama is very unpopular. He got 34 percent of the vote statewide, and
less in our district [ Oklahoma 's 2nd Congressional District]. If he were
to run for re-election today, I bet it would be even worse. It would be a
lot nicer if we had someone who was in the middle. Bill Clinton won our
district. A lot of people don't remember that, but he, in 1996, carried this
district. I think if you have someone who governs from the middle, who's
pragmatic, who works with both parties. President Obama talks a lot about
bipartisanship. If you look at some of the legislation, he may have one or
two Republicans.

In sorting through all of this, it would be silly and wishful thinking on
the part of Republicans to pretend that Obama is in free-fall. But it would
be equally silly and demonstrative of wishful thinking on the part of
Democrats to ignore the warning signs. Barack Obama is no longer sailing on
a summer sea. A public that was strongly supportive of Obama has, in six
months, become increasingly wary of and resistant to his policies. He is
governing in a manner that is different, and more liberal, than they were
led to expect. Obama's soothing words are beginning to fall a bit flat, as
is his effort to blame everything on his predecessor. That worked for a
season, but that season has come to an end. And Obama is increasingly
beginning to sound (and spin) like a conventional politician.

Worst of all, in my estimation, Obama is prescribing exactly the wrong
antidote for our ailing economy. I may be mistaken; if so, and if Obamaism
is sound economics, he could turn out to be a political Colossus. But if I,
along with others far more knowledgeable about economics than I am, are
right, then the ripples we are seeing will soon become large breakers, ones
that may well begin to wash away recent Democratic gains and, in the
process, do enormous, and perhaps irreparable, damage to modern liberalism.

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