Is it Obama or The Tea Party Who Needs a Storyline for August?

Aug 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Michael Scherer writes in Time this week that “Facing Economic Headwinds, Obama Struggles Again to Find an August Storyline“.  According to Scherer,

August is always Barack Obama’s darkest month. Whether it’s a faltering campaign (2007), Paris Hilton comparisons (2008), town hall rebellions (2009), or an inability to stay on message just weeks before a midterm wipeout (2010), nothing good ever seems to happen in the weeks immediately following his birthday. And this year is shaping up worse than most.

But is this anything more than journalistic hype? Is August really Obama’s problem child, or the GOP/Tea Party’s? Who should really be struggling to find a storyline? Obama’s approval isn’t suffering. A new CNN/ORC International Poll, shows that 44 percent of people questioned approve of Obama’s performance, not much different from the 45 percent he got in each of mid-July and August’s polls.

The GOP on the other hand… As reported here on Tuesday, a new CNN poll “found that voters are angry and they are taking out their anger on John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and the entire Republican Party.”

The CNN poll found that John Boehner’s approval rating has fallen off a cliff. In July, Boehner had a 43% favorable rating and a 32% unfavorable rating, (net +11). After the debt ceiling debacle the numbers have reversed. Boehner now has a 33% favorable rating, and 40% unfavorable rating. The Speaker of the House has gone from a plus eleven to a net minus seven. That is an 18 point negative swing in one month.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel didn’t fare much better than Boehner. McConnell’s favorable rating dropped from 27% to 21%. His unfavorable rating grew from 32% to 39%. In July McConnell’s net favorable rating was at a (-5), today his net negative is (-18). McConnell suffered a net thirteen point negative swing in a month.

More recently still, a new PPP/Daily Kos/SEIU poll shows that since the debt ceiling compromise “disapproval of the Republican Congress has jumped to 65%.” Disapproval of Republicans is now higher than disapproval of Democrats in Congress.

The American people may be obtuse at times, but they’re not stupid. Perhaps it’s John Boehner and his GOP and Tea Party fellow congressmen who ought to be worry about putting together an August storyline.

Scherer’s angle is this:

A week in, here’s the hand Obama has drawn: the return of double-dip recession fears, an emboldened Tea Party, a sinking Dow, stagnating employment, and the nation’s credit rating downgraded for the first time in 70 years.

Alright, but is the Tea Party really emboldened? And yes, the Dow and unemployment issues are serious, as is the credit rating downgrade, but it’s the Tea Party’s refusal to compromise that seems to be drawing the chorus of criticism, not Obama’s performance. Critics of the Tea Party have become more vocal, not less. Scherer goes on to say,

Now he faces the unenviable task of trying, once again, to convince the American people that he cares about the one thing they care about—getting the nation’s economy back on track and creating jobs—even as his actual power to get anything through Congress has never been weaker.

But as Paul Krugman pointed out in 2010, the party in power is the one to which blame attaches itself. From 2009 to 2010 that was Barack Obama. Since 2010 that has been the Tea Party and the GOP, which took control of the U.S. House. Krugman predicated at the time that it would be the GOP which was remembered by voters in 2012 as being the ones to blame should things not improve, and so far, that seems to be the case.

If they would have not gained control of the House in 2010 and the economy floundered as it is now, it would be Obama and Obama only to whom blame attached itself. But by inserting themselves so visibly and catastrophically into the process, they have completely altered those dynamics. No one is really fooled into believing that it was Obama’s unwillingness to compromise that brought this disaster upon us.

It is the House, after all, which has failed to create a single job – not Obama. It is the House that got the nation’s credit rating downgraded – not Obama. People aren’t blaming Obama for the economy in the first place – people still recognize this is George W. Bush’s doing.

Sunday, on Face the Nation, David Axelrod said,

 ”The President has proposed a series of steps that he thinks we should take,” Axelrod said, “including extending the payroll tax cut, including extending unemployment insurance, an infrastructure bank to get construction workers back rebuilding this country, trade treaties that will expand our exports, patent reform so that our entrepreneurs can bring their products to market faster.”

According to Scherer, this clear statement of goals and intent isn’t enough. What Scherer wants to see is “a larger presidential storyline, a clear narrative in which voters can see each proposal as flagstones on the same path toward recovery.”

The Republicans and Tea Party are certainly casting the blame for our economic downturn on Obama, what the Democrats are calling a “Destroy Obama” strategy. But they’ve been pursuing this strategy since his first day in office, and if the poll numbers are any indication, they haven’t succeeded in destroying his standing with the American people. As CNN Polling Director Keating Holland says,

“That’s an indication that the fallout from last week’s debt ceiling agreement, Friday night’s credit rating downgrade, and last week’s stock market downturn have not affected overall views of President Obama so far.”

I think the Republicans are already writing a storyline for August, and it’s not one they would wish to have written. But their actions have determined events; forces have been put into motion that give this story a certain grim inevitability.

But if Obama doesn’t have trouble with his standing viz the right-wing, he does have trouble with the left. The same CNN poll shows that “sixteen percent of all Americans say they disapprove of Obama because he has not been liberal enough – more than double the number who felt that way in May.”

And Cornell West, a Princeton professor as well as a black intellectual says,

“A large number of black people want to protect President Obama against the vicious right-wing attacks, the Fox News-like attacks, the lies about him being socialist, Muslim, and so forth,” he said. “On the other hand, the suffering intensifies. It is very clear that President Obama caves in over and over again. He punts on first down. If you’re in a foxhole with him, you’re in trouble because he wants to compromise. He doesn’t have the kind of backbone he ought to have.”

In a world where perception is reality, Barack Obama may be winning one battle and losing another. But even here the enigma that is Obama cannot be so easily dismissed.  CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asks if Obama is “ripping a page” from Clinton’s playbook, presenting himself as a centrist to attract independents and moderates, a strategy that helped Clinton win re-election in 1996. This is why my Norse ancestors were offering good advice when they said not to judge a thing until it’s done. Very likely only Obama knows what he is doing and why and we won’t know if he is a master strategist or lacks a backbone until the dust is settled. Right now, I’d say the lack of a storyline, if there is such a lack, is serving him pretty well and that it’s the Tea Party and GOP who ought to be scrambling for a script.

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