Whatever the outcome of the health-care-reform debate, one fact seems practically irrefutable: President Obama’s honeymoon is over.
Although he remains generally popular, with around 53 percent approval, public opinion polls show that Obama’s support among moderates and independents has plunged dramatically. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey published Sept. 1 found that 53 percent of independents disapprove of how the president is doing his job. That’s up from 43 percent disapproval a month earlier. A Zogby International poll last month reported that 59 percent of independents disapproved of Obama’s job performance.
Has Obama lost the center by tacking too far left too quickly? Did he mislead independents and moderates about his policies? Or are the polls not telling the whole story? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
George W. Bush was an irresponsible chief executive in many ways. Bush signed off on deficit-exploding budgets. He bequeathed taxpayers a new $75 billion-a-year entitlement in the form of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit and launched the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to bail out investment banks the feds deemed too big to fail. But Obama’s first 230-plus days in office make Bush look like Calvin Coolidge.
It’s really no wonder why moderates and independents are abandoning Obama. He has governed immoderately and expanded the budget deficit massively. From the $787 billion stimulus Obama insisted was vital to save the economy to the $3.6 trillion budget plan for 2010 and the auto-industry bailouts, the new administration has been anything but responsible or restrained. The Congressional Budget Office says the projected budget deficit for the next 10 years will top $9 trillion.
And that doesn’t take into account health-care reform.
Public opinion is fickle and often irrational. But the reaction from independents, conservatives and so-called moderates to Obama’s ambitious expansion of government at exorbitant expense is perfectly sane.
Moderates and independents may be difficult to pin down politically, but they aren’t spendthrifts. And conservatives burned by the Bush years were never likely to cut this administration any slack on fiscal policy.
Obama campaigned on a platform of change and used protean rhetoric to appeal to liberals, moderates and even conservatives. But the president’s actions belie the candidate’s language. This is not the change that independents and moderates could believe in.
Polls are tricky things for presidents. Follow the numbers too closely and they end up like Bill Clinton, letting pollsters choose his vacation spot. Ignore them and they end up like George W. Bush: Mired with approval ratings below 30 percent, unable to muster public support to advance his agenda. Obama’s job is to find — and stick to — a middle way.
But no president ever stays as popular as they were on the day they took office.
Their approval ratings inevitably fall as they make hard choices about governing — choices that will naturally receive support from some quarters and opposition from others. And the choices that Obama had to make in his first months in office were tougher than those facing most new presidents: Try to rescue the economy with a gargantuan and deficit-expanding stimulus package or hope that economists’ warnings about a possible Depression turned out to be overblown? Bail out the American automobile industry and be accused of socialism, or let it collapse and watch an entire sector of the economy disappear overnight? There were no good choices.
Imagine, though, if Obama had stayed his hand and the economy had indeed collapsed — or if Detroit had been allowed to go belly-up. Where would his approval ratings be now? Would Republicans be praising him for making the choices they advocated? Would independents be showering him with love? Unlikely.
So Obama’s challenge is to pick a path, stick to it and try to bring the American people along. He finally appears ready to take that approach on the health-care debate, with a speech to Congress planned for Sept. 9. It’s a battle he might lose, but being popular and getting stuff done don’t easily coexist in American politics.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.)