Reversing the Downward Trend

The Washington Post has collected advice from Scott Keeter (Pew pollster), Michael S. Berman (lobbyist and Democratic Party apparatchik), Newt Gingrich (former Republican House Speaker), Donna Brazile (Democratic Party apparatchik), Robert J. Blendon (Harvard professor of health policy and political analysis), Christine Todd Whitman (former Republican governor of New Jersey), Dan Schnur (Republican Party apparatchik), Ed Rogers (Republican Party apparatchik), Harold Ford, Jr. (chairman of Democratic Leadership Council), and Ed Gillespie (Republican strategist and party apparatchik) on how President Obama should respond to his sagging poll numbers. As might not be completely unexpected the Democrats recommend that he go his own way without bipartisan support and the Republicans recommend that he move to the center.

Fundamental differences appear to be over whether President Obama should keep moving in the direction in which he has moved since inauguration, hoping that events will prove him right, or change directions.

I think the most solid comment came from Ed Rogers:

Occasionally all White Houses contort themselves into situations where they begin to say things they know are not true. The more you say such things, the more you have to keep saying them to try and make them true. But the Obama administration needs to face it: The president’s energy bill is not a jobs bill! His health-care plans will lead to government bureaucratic decisions about individuals’ heath care and will cost a fortune. The deficit is not under control. The administration should not deny the obvious or defend the indefensible.

The practice that Mr. Rogers is describing is what I usually think of as reading (and believing) your own press releases. There comes a point at which that becomes incredible and detached from reality.

Over the course of my lifetime I’ve seen two sorts of presidents: those who wanted to be president and those who wanted to accomplish something as president. Bill Clinton hoarded his political capital in a miserly fashion, reminding me of nothing so much as the Parable of the Talents. In my view he was an excellent example of the first sort. Ronald Reagan was a good example of the second sort. I don’t know whether it’s a question of character or one of age. There may be a difference between the situation when one becomes president relatively early in one’s life and when the presidency is the capstone of a lengthy career.

The more the Obama presidency is about Barack Obama, his reelection, and the fortunes of his party, the faster and harder his decline in the polls will be. It isn’t a matter of left, right, or center. It’s more a question of how the American people sees the president as a person. Whether right or wrong, fair or unfair, President Obama has given plenty of ammo to those who want to paint him as an aloof elitist or as Paul Krugman put it “a dry technocrat”.

I think Americans hold contradictory views on this and many other subjects. While many want an omni-competent president, dry technocrats will never be popular.

4 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    Given that the entire right wing cupboard of ideas consists largely of cutting taxes, how would Obama move more towards the center? (I am of course omitting Douthat et al. who have suggested actual ideas.) I think he will probably turn to Wyden-Bennett, but that will be demonized also (it has begun already). Other than that, what is the center? The Republicans are in total opposition mode while offering few alternatives other than accepting the status quo. TBH, his foreign policy is largely Bush’s and what a Republican would have done anyway.


  • I would be pleased if the Obama Administration were to embrace Wyden-Bennett. While it’s imperfect as any reform will be, it makes some moves in the right directions and is better than the House leadership’s preferred approach. However, I think that it’s more likely that the Administration will move towards something along the lines that Charles Krauthammer suggested yesterday and which I posted about. Unfortunately.

  • Brett Link

    Clinton, to be fair, did try to spend his political capital early on in the first two years of his Presidency, but from what I’ve read the two major attempts – his budget and his health care reform – cost him heavily. After that, he had a hostile and Republican-dominated Congress, which makes it difficult for a President to do anything on the domestic front.

    Reagan, on the other hand, at least had a narrowly Republican-dominated Senate (53-55 Republican seats) for the first six years of his Presidency, even if the House was always controlled by the Democrats.

  • sam Link

    “The practice that Mr. Rogers is describing is what I usually think of as reading (and believing) your own press releases. ”


    “How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.”

    Karl Krause

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