Well, it's a slow news week. And political writers, who may be tired of writing about health care reform or simply have nothing else about which to write, are eagerly continuing to share their thoughts on the matter today.
It seems a bit excessive to me. I mean, there are other things to write about — and I'm not talking about just the health care reform vote that now appears to be scheduled for tomorrow morning in the Senate.
- At the Christian Science Monitor, Patrik Jonsson wonders if other Democrats will follow suit.
"Mr. Griffith's defection could put pressure on other conservative and even moderate Democrats, especially in the Deep South, to jump ship to save their seats," Jonsson writes. "They've been encountering backlash from the public against a Democrat–controlled progressive agenda in Washington."
That's possible. I wrote a little about the history of party allegiance in the South yesterday. And Southern Democrats may need to compare their own political philosophies against the agenda of the national party and see if they have more in common with their national colleagues or their constituents. That may even be necessary for Democrats in the Southern states Barack Obama won in 2008.
- Patricia McCarter writes, in the Huntsville Times, that Griffith wasn't comfortable as a Democrat.
But the Republican who lost to Griffith, Wayne Parker, seems to be skeptical about that. "What's changed?" he asked. "In 2008 [Griffith] ran proudly as a Democrat, he had a history with the Democratic Party, he knew what it stood for, and he took money from Democratic national leaders, including [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi. They're doing exactly what they said they'd do.
"Now the environment isn't looking so good for Democrats, and it strikes me as odd that he now decides the party isn't what he wants."
- In an editorial, the Decatur Daily said it wasn't surprised by the switch.
"Since winning a heated and often nasty general election contest ... former Democrat Griffith has consistently voted with Republicans on big issues such as health care reform, economic stimulus and climate change legislation," the Daily wrote. "Griffith was a Democrat in name only."
- Peter Wallsten reports, in the Wall Street Journal, that Republican strategists don't anticipate more defections, but they are hopeful that Griffith's switch "will bolster their attempts to persuade at least nine other long–time Democrats to retire."
Even Parker's comments about Griffith and his history with the Democratic Party can be explained as sour grapes from a man who lost last year's House race by less than 10,000 votes.
At the moment, though, there are other intriguing political stories to write about. For example:
- The Quinnipiac University Poll reports that Obama's approval rating stands at 46%.
Since I have written frequently in recent months about the problems that the parties of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan — the last two presidents who inherited recessions — encountered in the midterm elections, it may be helpful — for comparison's sake — to see how that figure stands up against the findings for Clinton and Reagan at comparable points in their first years in office.
Clinton was far short of 50% when he won the 1992 election against President George H.W. Bush and independent Ross Perot, and his Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress in 1994, but in mid–December 1993, his approval ratings offered no hint of the calamity that was to befall his party less than a year later. Three separate polls — NBC/Wall Street Journal, ABC/Washington Post and Gallup/CNN/USA Today — had Clinton's approval rating in the mid–50s.
Reagan barely exceeded 50% in the 1980 election when he defeated President Jimmy Carter and independent John Anderson, but the Republicans captured the Senate for the first time in more than 20 years and gained nearly three dozen House seats. Two years later, the Senate breakdown was virtually unchanged, but the Democrats retook more than two dozen House seats.
There may have been a little more warning of the difficulties Reagan's party would face in mid–December of 1981, but Reagan was in better shape than Obama. At that time, Gallup reported Reagan's approval rating was 49% — almost unchanged from where it stood less than two weeks after Reagan's inauguration but nearly 20 points below the level he reached after being the victim of an assassination attempt in March.
In Obama's case, the numbers may not be cause for panic — yet — but 46% approval in December represents a sharp decline from his presidential high–water mark of 76% in a CNN poll in February, and graphic representations of Obama's approval/disapproval show a consistent trajectory in both numbers that, left unchecked, suggest that he will be in negative territory in early 2010.
- Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait of The New Republic insists on beating that mangy — and probably long dead by now — horse, "It isn't Obama's fault."
In fact, his lead paragraph makes his feelings clear: "President Obama is like a pilot who took the controls of the plane in mid–flight after the engines fell out. It's obvious that he didn't cause the problem. But the passengers are going to focus on the fact that the plane was still airborne before he took over, and now, he's crash–landing in the ocean."
I know there are several writers out there who enjoy playing the blame game, presumably because it gives them another opportunity to flog George W. Bush, but recently I wrote about a New York Times poll of unemployed Americans that reported that about 3% of respondents blamed Obama for joblessness.
They were less charitable when asked a different question — how is Obama handling unemployment? Forty–seven percent approved, 44% disapproved.
I don't know how many times this has to be pointed out to Obama's apologists before it penetrates their bullet–proof skulls, but Obama is being judged on his actions. Voters seem to understand that a president cannot choose the circumstances that exist when he takes office, but he can control what he does about them. The fact that the unemployed are split over his record in fighting joblessness after nearly a year in office speaks volumes.
- Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith suggest in Politico that Rudy Giuliani's decision not to seek statewide office in New York in 2010 "likely brings down the curtain on a fading political career."
It's hard for me to believe this is the man my brother favored for president three years ago — but he ended up leaving Giuliani for much the same reason as others — described by Martin and Smith as "his defining moment — the Sept. 11 attacks — was reduced to a one–liner about a one–trick candidate."
Am I the only one who thinks Giualani's decision deserves more attention than it has received?