Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Winter (and Spring) of Our Discontent

He hasn't even reached that mythical 100–day mark in his administration, but there are signs that the "honeymoon" may be over for Barack Obama.

On a personal level, Obama still seems to be popular with the voters — his latest job approval figures range from the mid-50s (Rasmussen) to the mid-60s (CNN/Opinion Research). But his policies? Not so much.

Most of the mutterings I've read lately have been coming from abroad. For example, David Warren writes in the Ottawa Citizen that, while the majority of Americans voted for Obama last November, they did not endorse his policies.

"[T]hey wanted Obama the man, but not Obama the agenda, except for the uplifting rhetorical bits about 'hope,' 'change,' and so forth," writes Warren. "The idea that the man could not be separated from the agenda never fully fixed."

I'm inclined to agree with that, as well as Warren's assertion that Obama "was perfectly sincere in denying that he was [an ideologue], and in claiming that he would be looking for bipartisan consensus."

And, Warren continues, "I also think he is sincere in proceeding with an agenda ... that leaves most Republicans, and quite a few of the more conservative Democrats, utterly aghast."

Warren is skeptical that there will be a second term for Obama. "Sixty days into his first term (and I begin to doubt there'll be a second), he would seem already to have dug a hole from which no rhetorical skill can lift him."

It may be a little premature to be wondering about the prospects for a second term, but it isn't too early to assess the Democratic Party's chances in the 2010 midterm elections. And that's a subject Charlie Cook has been examining in the National Journal.

"Republicans have pulled even with Democrats on the generic congressional ballot test," Cook reports, citing findings from Democratic pollster Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies. The key to this good news for the GOP seems to be independent voters. As Cook writes, "[V]oters who call themselves independents gave GOP candidates the edge by 14 points, 38 percent to 24 percent."

Cook's analysis of the poll results is worth reading in full, but I find it hard to argue with his conclusion that "although Republicans still 'have their work cut out for them,' the public doesn't want to give President Obama and the Democrats in Congress a blank check."

From "across the pond," as they say in England, The Guardian urges people to give Obama some time. It has been suggested, The Guardian writes, that Obama "may be less the new Abraham Lincoln or the new Franklin Roosevelt than the new Jimmy Carter."

That seems a little unfair to me, although Obama, like Carter, is an intelligent, well-educated man who may be replicating Carter's mistake of trying to do too much at once.

"According to this arresting but surely premature argument, Mr. Obama is making Mr. Carter's mistake of giving too much priority to pushing a new social agenda and is not focusing enough on trying to fix the economy," writes The Guardian.

Much of the response from abroad appears to stem from Obama's decision to send a video message to Iran — which, I suppose, only invites comparisons to Carter, whose downfall was brought about, in large part, because of the American hostages in that country. However, as The Guardian observes, "Mr. Obama was smart enough to couch his message in cultural, rather than explicitly political, terms."

In the end, The Guardian counsels, "Mr. Obama gets some things wrong. But he is doing the big things right. Give him time."

Domestically, Obama seems to have kept most of his defenders, but their ranks are diminishing.

Perhaps one of the best examples of that is Maureen Dowd, who writes in today's New York Times about Michelle Obama's new vegetable garden on the White House lawn — and her promise that everyone in the family, including her husband, will pull weeds "whether they like it or not."

Dowd, who made no secret of her support for Obama even before he announced his candidacy, observed that the scene "left me wondering if the wrong Obama is in the Oval."

As Dowd puts it, "It's a time in America's history where we need less smooth jazz and more martial brass."

And she suggests that Obama may have "lost touch with his hole–in–the–shoe, hole–in–the–Datsun, have–not roots."

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, the economy went through some rough patches, although they certainly weren't as dire as the circumstances we face today.

Some friends of my parents owned some land in the country where they kept some livestock and a stock pond filled with fish. They made available part of their land for their friends to use for vegetable gardens to help them save money on their food bills, and my parents took them up on the offer.

For a few years, we consumed our homegrown vegetables exclusively (I was particularly fond of our turnip greens, tomatoes and corn on the cob).

And I found that weeding our garden, from time to time, gave me an opportunity to think through all sorts of things that I had been finding puzzling. Spending time in the garden like that, where it was peaceful and quiet (except for a bird's occasional burst into song), had an invigorating quality.

Perhaps the president could re–discover his roots if he put on an old pair of jeans and took a trowel out to Michelle's garden for a few hours.

1 comment:

Michael J. Bernard said...

The Employee Free Choice Act should be called "The Employee Right For Intimidation" act!