Friday, August 21, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In an interview on NBC's Today Show two weeks after he was sworn in President Obama was blunt. He said that if he didn't deliver he'd be "a one term proposition." Put this in the category of what did he know and when did he know it. The it is that he was under the white hot glare of the public to deliver the goods, or be quickly dumped in the presidential has been bin. Polls back up this hard political reality about Obama. A mid August Washington Post-ABC News survey found that his approval ratings continue to plunge. Part of that can be chalked up to inevitability.
New presidents always ride into office on the crest of both voter hopes and euphoria about the prospect of change and disgust at and voter fatigue with the former seat warmer in the White House. And new presidents just as quickly see their approval ratings dip or freefall. It’s easy to see why. They try to do too much to soon, promise not to do political business in the old ways, try to make too drastic legislative changes, or quickly reverse the bad old policies of their predecessor. It’s the fabled man on the white horse coming to the rescue. This is, of course, just that fable. Real politics and an impatient public knock that storybook notion for a loop.
In Obama’s case, he gambled that his presidency would be a crowning success if he could beat back the fine tuned, well-oiled, and well-endowed health care industry juggernaut and get health care reform, that’s real health care reform, through Congress and into law. Only one president has been able to do and that was Lyndon Johnson. He arm twisted, browbeat, and out smarted Congress and the health care industry to get Medicare. Johnson had won a landslide election victory in 1964, had fine tuned, hard nosed political skills, had the reform spirit of the civil rights movement and a solid Democratic party behind him. And he had the well spring of public sympathy after JFK’s murder. Obama is not LBJ, politically. And he has neither the times or Johnson’s massive mandate for change going for him.
Above everything else, the voters put Obama in the White House to make the economy right, reign in the Wall Street greed merchants, save jobs and homes, and get the credit pipeline to businesses open. That hasn’t happened. Instead they’ve gotten a raucous, and contentious health care reform fight that’s given a badly fractured and reeling, GOP, the butt of scorn and jokes, something that it never dreamed in its wildest dreams in mid November could happen. That’s the weapon to get back in the political hunt. If anyone had dared say a month ago that the percent of voters who blame Obama for making a mess of health care reform was in striking distance of the number of voters who blame the GOP for the mess, they’d have been measured for a straightjacket. A mid-August Pew Research survey found just that.
Obama eventually will get a health care bill to sign. But it will be a bill that will satisfy few. Progressives will scream even louder that the bill sans a public option, and deal laden with big Pharma giveaways, is smoke and mirrors, a sham reform, and another infuriating betrayal of his campaign pledge of hope and change. The Fox Network, Limbaugh, and the GOP attack hounds will scream even louder that the bill and Obama are taking the country down a sink hole. The bill will leave the majority of voters confused, perplexed, and even more uneasy about what Obama is really up to, and his seeming inability to be the tough, decisive leader that millions took a chance on and backed.
The conventional wisdom is that Obama has plenty of time to get things right. Here’s the problem. Health care and the economy are signature markers for a successful Obama first term, and the justification for a second one. Doubts, unease, or his real or perceived failure will be hard to unhinge from voter thinking. Blacks, Hispanics, young and progressive voters will still back him. But will they crusade for him as they did in 2008? That means again turning out in big and impassioned numbers. This won’t happen if they feel Obama waffled or reneged on his key promises. Meanwhile, the GOP will sow more fear, pound away on the doubts, unease and perceived failures of Obama. It will dump its bizarre Palin fascinaton, will have a fat campaign chest, and will groom a fresh new GOP face, (just like the Dems did with Obama).
Worse, Obama won’t have the gargantuan trump card he had in 2012. That was the Bush bogeyman to scare, shock, and rev up voters. This doesn’t spell defeat in 2012. It does spell an Obama nightmare about a one term presidency.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com