Political Hay

Will Obama Continue to Defy Gravity?

It depends.

By 7.28.09

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Since his very convincing election victory last November, and the sweep of both houses of Congress by the Democrats, President Obama has dominated the playing field, scoring at will on a number of budget and programmatic issues and accelerating federal spending, taxes and debt at levels unprecedented since World War II.

Still, if the polling data is to be believed, there are clouds on the horizon. The Obama administration's alliance with Democrats on the Hill, which has unleashed this tsunami of red ink, appears to be the cause of growing unease among Americans occupying the center-right of the political spectrum.

This past Friday, July 24, was the first time President Obama's performance approval rating has ever fallen below 50 percent among likely voters, according to the tracking polls at Rasmussen Reports: 51 percent now disapprove.

Indeed, Rasmussen finds that just 25 percent believe that the economic stimulus package has helped the economy.

And this Monday, July 27, Rasmussen Reports indicates that their daily tracking poll showed that 40 percent strongly disapprove of President Obama's performance versus 30 percent who strongly approve.

Voters are also beginning to reassess the President's ideological coloring. "Obama is now seen as politically liberal by 76%. That's up six points from a month ago, 11 points since he was elected, and the highest total to date," reports Rasmussen. "Forty-eight percent (48%) now seem him as Very Liberal, up 20 points since he was elected."

The new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 59 percent of Americans say President Obama's proposals to address the major problems facing the country call for too much spending. Fifty-two percent say Obama's proposals call for too much expansion of government power. These numbers are driven primarily by Republicans and independents. Republicans react negatively to his spending by 90 percent and by 80 percent to the expansion of government power.

"Of more concern to the Obama administration, perhaps, is the finding that clear majorities of 66% and 60% of independents, respectively, say Obama's proposals involve too much spending and too much government expansion," says Frank Newport of the Gallup organization. Moreover, "Obama receives his lowest approval ratings (out of seven issues tested in the July 17-19 poll) on handling the federal budget deficit (41% approve; 55% disapprove).

Over at WorldNetDaily, brother Patrick Buchanan asks, "Has Obama's luck run out?" (July 23). Hyperbole aside, Buchanan notes that Obama "is 10 points below where Nixon was after a full year, and on economic issues -- unemployment, the deficit spending -- he is under 50 percent."

"From North Korea to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Honduras, and from the economy to healthcare to carbon emissions, things are not going Obama's way," says Buchanan.

Will the President continue to defy gravity, using his immense good will, poise and personality to shepherd an extremely liberal agenda through Congress? Mr. Newport from Gallup does note "that two-thirds of Americans believe the challenges Obama faced when he became president are 'more serious than the challenges other new presidents have faced.'" I guess that excludes Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. Nevertheless, and allowing for short historical memories, Americans do cut President Obama some slack given what are very extraordinary and frightening circumstances.

"The key for the Obama administration will be what happens as a result of the government spending and activity in the months ahead," observes Newport. "If the economy picks up significantly within the next year and the unemployment rate drops, it will be easier for the administration to argue that its extreme measures have been worth it. If, however, the economy stays in the doldrums, then these data reinforce the conclusion that Obama's actions will provide potent fodder for critics to assail in forthcoming election campaigns."

Given the American economy's historic resilience, one has to bet on some kind of economic recovery. The recent run up of the stock market seems to divine such an eventuality. But it may be a slow, jobless recovery. What does that mean in states such as Michigan and Ohio? Real estate and home foreclosures are still sticky wickets in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida.

Another variable in the political equation is: what do the Republicans have to offer by way of alternatives, both in terms of policy and candidates? Certainly, the GOP's gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey are top drawer. But how solid is its field of congressional candidates across the country? It takes a horse to beat a horse.

Finally, in the case of the White House itself, the GOP bench is not very deep, although Romney's economic background may be just what the doctor ordered in these troubled times, notwithstanding his earlier flip-flopping on the right to life. Gingrich would be fun to watch in presidential debates, but he carries a lot of personal baggage. Palin and Huckabee, the evangelical wing of the party so to speak, have strong but narrow constituencies.

The future is not foreordained. I saw a recent report indicating that if the economy continues to fizzle, Hillary Clinton might challenge Obama in a primary. For political prognostication, that is going out on a long limb. Yet, it may be time, at least for the GOP, to start thinking outside the box. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for President? 

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.