Obama: Ineffectually Challenged
President Barack Obama is in a funk. Americans are coming to see the president as ineffectual. That is a dangerous perception.
Obama’s job approval rating is at risk of dropping below 40 percent. Democrats may lose their majority in the Senate this fall. It may be difficult for the president to accomplish anything during his last two years.
In the March NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 42 of registered voters say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Obama. Only 22 percent say they would be more likely to vote for Obama’s candidate.
Why is this happening? Republicans have their answer: Obamacare.
Karl Rove, the “architect” of President George W. Bush’s two winning campaigns, said Obamacare will be worse for Democrats this year than it was in 2010, “especially incumbent Democrats in red, even purple, states and districts who voted for the monstrosity.”
Representative Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) called Obamacare “one of the most insidious laws ever created by man.” You wait. Soon a Republican will claim that Obamacare is causing climate change.
Nonetheless, Obamacare is the law, and it’s unlikely that Republicans will be able to do anything about it as long as a Democrat is in the White House. But Obamacare is not the only, or even the most serious, problem that Obama is facing. His ratings on the economy and foreign policy are even lower than his rating on healthcare.
Voters like to believe a president is in control of events. He rarely is, but he has to convey that impression. It’s frightening for people to believe that their leaders have no control over events — that things are in danger of spinning out of control. That’s why New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani became a hero on 9/11. He gave the impression that he was in control — even if he really wasn’t.
Obama does not give that impression. The launch of Obamacare has been a disaster. While most Americans believe the program is worth saving — they want it fixed, not abolished the experience was a real blow to the Obama administration’s image of competence. Obama’s signature legislative achievement is seen as ineffectual.
Yet Obama’s core problem is the same as it’s been for the last five years — the economy. The recovery has been slow and painful. In fact, most Americans don’t see a recovery. In the NBC-Journal poll, 57 percent say the country is still in recession.
People are waiting for the second-term boom — like the one in President Ronald Reagan’s second term and in President Bill Clinton’s second term. Obama’s economic policies are seen as ineffectual.
Clinton had to deal with a Republican Congress led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Clinton got welfare reform and a balanced budget. Obama’s dealings with Congress, however, have been ineffectual.
The biggest surprise is foreign policy. During his first term, foreign policy was Obama’s strongest issue. He eliminated Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi from power. He ended the war in Iraq. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now his foreign policy ratings have taken a tumble — even though Obama has been careful to do what the American public wants him to do.
The public opposed a military strike in Syria. So Obama held back. The public opposes a military confrontation with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Obama has complied. Nonetheless, the human devastation in Syria continues unabated. And Russia has annexed the sovereign territory of another country. In both cases, the U.S. doesn’t seem to be able to do anything. We are ineffectual.
Commentators have been wrestling with the puzzle of Obama’s low foreign policy ratings. Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution writes that the American people “may want what Obama so far has been giving them, but they’re not proud of it, and they’re not grateful to him for giving them what they want.” Kagan describes this as “a narrowly self-interested American policy.”
Really? Daniel Larison argues in The American Conservative, “No one can seriously believe that Obama would have benefited politically from waging an unnecessary war [in Syria] over the strenuous objections of both the public and Congress.”
Ross Douthat comes closest to the answer when he writes for The New York Times that what matters isn’t the policy, but the results. If a president does what the people want and it turns out disastrously, the president will still be blamed.
On foreign policy, just like on the economy and so far on Obamacare, people haven’t seen many good results. That means there is likely to be a big market in 2016 for a candidate who can deliver what Obama hasn’t — effectiveness. Right now, the candidate who fits that description is not a Republican, but another Democrat: Hillary Clinton.
The March CNN poll gauges the public’s perception of both Obama and Clinton on 12 different qualities. Obama’s lowest rating: “Can manage the government effectively” (43 percent). Clinton’s rating on effectiveness is 16 points higher (59 percent). That’s the biggest difference between the two Democrats.
The second biggest difference? “Strong and decisive leader” (Clinton 64, Obama 50).
Third biggest difference? “Tough enough to handle a crisis” (Clinton 64, Obama 53).
It will defy every gender stereotype if voters decide they want a stronger, tougher, more effective leader than Obama in 2016 and they turn to a woman.
PHOTO (TOP): President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi following their meeting at Villa Madama in Rome. March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
PHOTO (INSERT 1): President Barack Obama listens to remarks during a joint news conference at the European Union-United States Summit in Brussels, March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
PHOTO (INSERT 2): Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives opening remarks for the plenary session on the second day of the 2014 meeting of Clinton Global Initiative University, at Arizona State University in Tempe, March 22, 2014. REUTERS/Samantha Sais