Thursday, September 9, 2010

Darn! Denied Another Teachable Moment?

I have to think that, in Professor Obama's "Teachable Moments" lecture series, Rev. Terry Jones and his plans to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday — the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks — had to be the capstone.

Consequently, it must have been a disappointment for the professor (even though he made a public appeal to Jones to listen to the "better angels" of his nature) late this afternoon when Jones announced that he would not proceed as planned but would, instead, go to New York to meet with a Muslim leader.

There are, after all, so few things Obama can speak about in public these days in which he will come off looking better than his naysayers.

And Obama, who must suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, has been bouncing around the country of late, trying to appease voters he lost long ago because he ignored their pleas for an emphasis on job creation.

There's nothing that can be done now about unemployment that will alter the outcome. In fact, the unemployment rate is about the same now as it was in July 2009, when Obama decided to take advantage of the highly publicized case of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates being taken into custody by Cambridge, Mass., police and have Gates and the arresting officer to the White House for a beer and a "teachable moment."

In the months after the teachable moment, unemployment continued its slog to the 10% level, then fell back a couple of tenths of a percentage point but now seems to be moving back up again. The difference is that, in 2009, only a couple of off–year gubernatorial elections and a special election in Massachusetts were on the political horizon. There wasn't much at stake.

But in 2010, the regularly scheduled midterm election is coming up. And what was once thought to be unthinkable — that Obama, who seemed to have the Midas touch when he campaigned for the presidency in 2008, has become an albatross for many of his fellow Democrats — appears to have come true.

Of course, that conclusion is based on the poll numbers. And, as always, I will concede that nothing is written in stone when one speaks of polls. Nor, for that matter, do the survey results that are being cited tell the whole story.

For example, many Obama defenders will point out that many polls show that, in the famous generic congressional poll, Democrats are closing the gap with Republicans — trailing, in many polls, by nearly the margin for error, which, in theory, means that they could be running about even.

But those polls only asked the respondents if they were registered voters. It is pretty easy to be a registered voter in this country. There is no shortage of politically active groups that set up registration tables and booths on college campuses, in shopping malls and at county fairs every election year.

The days when some voters were prevented from registering in some parts of the country are long gone.

Being a registered voter, though, is not the same thing as being a likely voter. Pollsters determine the likely voters by asking them questions about their past voting behavior. That isn't 100% reliable, of course, but it is the best indicator we can get for what is likely to happen in the election.

And the polls have shown, repeatedly, that likely voters are supporting the Republicans by ridiculous margins. In fact, if some of these polls are right, Election Day is going to be a brutal day for many Democrats.

It's hard — for me, at least — to conclude that there is a cause–and–effect relationship at work here, but it's even harder for me to make a plausible case that there isn't one.

After last summer's teachable moment, Obama's approval ratings remained — mostly — in the 50s for the next four months or so, but his approval ratings in most surveys dropped into the 40s around the start of December, and they have seldom seen the 50s range since.

Well, it seems that Obama may have the chance to have that teachable moment lecture after all.

Can it reverse the tide? I doubt it. But it might be entertaining.

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