Obama’s ultimate indignity: Bush seen as more competent

By Bill Schneider
June 10, 2014


Agreement is not enough.  Performance matters more.

That’s why the outlook for Democrats this November looks bleak.  More and more Americans now agree with Democrats on the issues.  But they are increasingly dismayed by President Barack Obama’s inability to get results.

The Gallup poll reports that, ideologically, Americans are moving to the left on both social and economic issues. Though more Americans continue to identify as conservatives than as liberals, the conservative advantage is shrinking.

In 2010, for example, which saw a huge backlash against Obama, self-described economic conservatives outnumbered economic liberals by 36 points. Every year since, the conservative lead has gotten smaller. It’s now 21 points.

fire obamaOn social issues, the conservative lead has virtually disappeared. It was 17 points in 2010. It’s now 4 points.  “This movement is consistent with trends Gallup has seen on specific issues,” the polling organization reports, “most notably Americans’ views toward gay rights and legalizing marijuana.”

If public opinion trends favor Democrats, why are they facing a setback in this year’s midterm elections? Because voters are deeply dissatisfied with Obama’s performance. He hasn’t delivered. When it comes time to vote, performance counts more than agreement.

That distinction explains a puzzling finding in the polls. On issues where voters agree with Obama, they give him low ratings.  Take gun control.  Most voters support Obama’s call for background checks for gun purchasers.  But last year, he couldn’t get a bill through the Senate. In this month’s CNN poll, 64 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Obama’s handling of gun policy.

Voters also agree with the president on immigration reform. His rating on handling illegal immigration? Sixty-one percent disapproval. Helping the middle class?  Fifty-eight percent negative.

In foreign affairs, Obama is doing essentially what the public wants in Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan. We’re not militarily involved in Syria or Ukraine and we’re withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. More than three-quarters of Americans support the withdrawal, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.  Nonetheless, Obama gets a 57 percent negative rating on foreign affairs.

Obama may be doing what people want, but they’re not satisfied with the outcome. No gun control law, no immigration reform, no economic boom, no impact on events in Syria or Ukraine, no marked improvement in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Instead, everywhere the president turns, he’s facing controversy — on the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner-of-war swap, on the Benghazi episode, on veterans’ healthcare.  Obamacare may be working, but it’s still broadly unpopular. Coal-state Democrats are in open rebellion against the president’s new environmental regulations. “We have to quit putting out fires,” a Democratic senator told the New York Times.

bush in NOThe ultimate indignity?  George W. Bush is now seen as a more competent president than Obama (by 48 to 42 percent in a Fox News poll).  According to the Washington Post, the public has “long viewed ‘getting things done’ as more of a Bush thing than an Obama thing.”

Don’t they remember Hurricane Katrina? Weapons of mass destruction and the war in Iraq? Maybe. But they also remember Bush as a president of immense resolve. Bush’s resolve eventually morphed into stubbornness — but he was never less than sure of himself. By comparison, Obama seems ineffectual.

President Jimmy Carter was often called ineffectual in the 1970s. The Iranian hostage crisis, inflation, gas lines, recession — he didn’t seem to be able to do anything about them. Like Carter, Obama can’t seem to catch a break. At least not since the brilliantly successful Osama bin Laden raid three years ago.

The comparison with Carter may be unfair. Carter never had to face a Republican Congress or a Tea Party revolt. The political situation is much tougher for Obama. Gridlock has become the rule. And it’s not likely to get better anytime soon.

Look closely at the Gallup trends on ideology and you see that the country has become more liberal mostly because rank-and-file Democrats have become more liberal. Republicans have not changed much.  If anything, Republicans have become more conservative on economic issues since Obama took office. But they are smaller in number than Democrats. The distance between the parties has been growing so fast it’s in danger of becoming unbridgeable.

obama & boehnerWhich is why the only way Obama can get anything done is by bypassing Congress — as he did on the new climate change regulations and on the prisoner-of-war exchange. In each case, setting a new fire.

Don’t voters understand that Obama has to deal with an impossible political situation? Don’t they blame Congress for the stalemate? Actually, they do.

Congress’s ratings are far worse than Obama’s. But that doesn’t get the president off the hook. His job is to get things done — no matter how difficult the political situation.

Didn’t President Ronald Reagan work with a Democratic Congress? Yes, but Democrats then were not nearly as hostile to Reagan as Republicans now are to Obama.

Bottom line? People are likely to vote for Republicans this year even though they don’t agree with Republicans on most issues. Two years from now, it will be different.

In the 2016 presidential election, there won’t be an incumbent on the ballot and voters will face a stark choice between two candidates. That’s when ideological issues will come into focus. And when the Democrats’ advantage on the issues is likely to materialize.


PHOTO (TOP): George W. Bush: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson; Barack Obama REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (INSERT 1): A man holds a sign outside the Arizona State Capitol during a pro-gun and Second Amendment protest in Phoenix, Arizona, January 19, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

PHOTO (INSERT2 ): President George W. Bush looks at the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi, September 2, 2005. REUTERS/Larry Downing

PHOTO (INSERT 2): House Speaker John Boehner (L) walks away as President Barack Obama waves upon his departure from the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, March 14, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


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