Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A House Divided

The Los Angeles Times' "Top of the Ticket" blog focuses today on Barack Obama's declining approval numbers.

The results of one survey — from — seem to be particularly vexing, for both and the writers for the Times. reports a "split decision" over the Obama presidency at the one–year mark — the raw numbers actually give a slight edge to those disapproving, 48% to 47%, but when you consider there is a three–point margin for error, a whole range of actual outcomes becomes possible.

The point,, which has been among the most enthusiastic of broadcasting's Obama cheerleaders, grudgingly acknowledges, is that "the economy by far remains issue No. 1 with Americans." Therefore, concludes, "The dominance of domestic issues in importance is most likely a contributing factor to the slight dip in Obama's overall approval rating."

This doesn't surprise me, and I don't really feel it should surprise anyone else, either. I was writing about the perils of prolonged unemployment before Obama took the oath of office.

About a year ago, I wrote about how being out of work robs people of their dignity and makes them feel powerless. More people are out of work today than in January 2009, and when people feel powerless, they lash out at the party that is in power.

So I'm not surprised that the public opinion surveys are picking up two definite trends — persistent upticks in disapproval, persistent declines in the approval numbers — even though both and the Los Angeles Times seem shocked and awed by this revelation.

Contributing to the drumbeat that disturbs Democrats is a report from Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in the Wall Street Journal. Quinnipiac's latest survey confirms's conclusions: "A year into his presidency," Brown writes, "Barack Obama gets a decidedly mixed report card from the American people. His ratings are trending lower and for the first time as many Americans rate his job performance negatively as positively."

The Associated Press reports that Obama admitted to People magazine, in an interview last week, that he has not brought the country together.

Thanks for that update, Captain Obvious — as one of Obama's longtime media supporters, Maureen Dowd, labeled him in her recent New York Times column about the near–miss terror incident on Christmas Day — which, interestingly, grabbed people's attention but does not appear to have played much of a role in either of those poll results.

Forty years ago, when President–elect Richard Nixon talked about bringing the country together, he was speaking mostly of healing the wounds inflicted by the Vietnam War. There are more sources of the wounds today, but the still open, still bleeding wound of excessive unemployment affects more Americans directly than any other.

In spite of the bad news coming from these polls, the administration gets a warm fuzzy from Mark Mellman in The Hill. Mellman wishes Obama a happy anniversary — even though his actual anniversary in office is still a week away.

"All Americans can remain proud of electing a president whose father was a Kenyan immigrant," Mellman writes, adding that it "speaks to the goodness of our nation."

He also insists on offering built–in excuses.

First, he reminds readers of Mario Cuomo's "famous distinction between the poetry of campaigning and the prose of governing."

Obama, he says, "has handled this transition well, though a few of his supporters have found it more jarring." I'd say it's been jarring for more than just his supporters — or simply "a few" of them. "Their expressions of disappointment," Mellman continues, "reflect a failure to comprehend the implications of Cuomo's critical distinction."

Mellman also provides some cover for the administration through the words of a song from "Jesus Christ Superstar," which is appropriate, I suppose, given the many references to "The One" in the 2008 general election campaign.

"He’s a man, he’s just a man ..."

Mellman reminds readers (well, I presume it is a reminder — I never read it myself) that he predicted a year ago that Obama's approval ratings would be below 50% by now.

"Barack Obama is a special and extraordinary talented president, but he is just a man," Mellman writes, "buffeted by the same political forces that have afflicted his predecessors and will bedevil his successors."

Well, the house remains divided. As president, Obama must do something about that because, as Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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