Free Markets, Free People
As mentioned yesterday, incumbent presidents usually have an advantage. But that advantage depends on a few things such as performance, leadership and to a degree, circumstance. For Barack Obama he’s come up 0-3 in those areas. And the polls consistently show his numbers trending down in just about every imaginable way.
I’ve talked about enthusiasm and how important that is to an election. Enthusiasm translates into voters eagerly going to the polls. It makes any Get Out The Vote program a breeze. And usually the side that is most enthusiastic turns out the largest numbers of voters and wins the election. The difference in enthusiasm for each side is called the “enthusiasm gap”. In the last election, the GOP was on the wrong side of that gap. This time, it appears the lack of enthusiasm is on the left is both evident and growing.
That leads us to something else that can doom a campaign. Perception. In the world of politics, perception is reality. How a voter perceives a candidate and his or her chances may decide how he or she votes, or whether they even bother. And one of the polls today essentially measures perception. And in keeping with most of the polls we’ve seen lately, it’s not good news for President Obama:
Just 37 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say they expect Obama to win re-election in November 2012; 55 percent instead expect the eventual Republican nominee to win. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos is asking the president about that result in an interview today.
That sort of perception, for whatever reason, is deadly to a politician’s future. The ABC story talks about enthusiasm and expectations and how those drive GOTV in most cases. Here’s the cherry on top of the sundae though:
Democrats do expect Obama to win, but they say so only by 58-33 percent – a comparatively tepid vote of confidence within his own party. Republicans, by contrast, smell victory by a vast 83-13 percent. And independents – the linchpin of national politics – by 54-36 percent expect the Republican candidate to beat Obama.
Obviously the perception among Republicans is one of victory. Among Democrats, almost resignation to a loss (especially given 2010. But the key demographic, the one I constantly harp on about, perceive Obama as a loser in the next election. And since it is Independents who will decide that, this is decidedly bad news for the Obama campaign. It also makes one wonder why, recently, he’s abandoned his “move to the center” for a more hard left (class warfare) approach. Not smart if you want to woo the center. But then, you also have to fire up your base when you’re in the electoral shape Obama is in.
The other poll falls into the third category I mentioned above – circumstance. I remember saying just prior to the Obama win that I’m not sure, given the economic circumstances the country finds itself in, that I’d want to win that election. Certainly our economic condition has not been favorable for Obama. Not that he’s helped himself at all during his time in office. He has, for the most part, backed exactly the wrong sort of policies and actions when he could even be bothered to address the economy.
The problem for Obama is the voters have notices and deem him to be ineffective as a leader because of the condition of the economy. Right or wrong, that’s the way American politics works. So again, there’s a growing perception of ineffectiveness and ineptness about the economy, which will be the main issue in the upcoming presidential election, that is going hang around Obama’s neck like an albatross.
And that brings us to the second poll of the day:
A new CBS News poll finds that nearly seven in 10 Americans believe President Obama has not made real progress in fixing the economy.
Sixty-nine percent say the president has not made real progress on the economy, which voters overwhelmingly cite as their most important issue. Twenty-five percent say he has made real progress.
Perceptions are not improving. The percentage who said Mr. Obama has made real progress has dropped 10 points from a survey 13 months ago, when 35 percent said he had made real progress.
Just 35 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, and his approval rating on the issue has been below 40 percent since February. Fifty-three percent approve of his handling of the economy.
There’s that word again – perception.
Always wanting to find a silver lining, there’s this:
Still, most don’t blame the administration for the state of the economy. Asked who was most to blame, Americans cited the Bush administration (22 percent), followed by Wall Street (16 percent), Congress (15 percent) and then the Obama administration (12 percent.) One in 10 said "all of the above."
Sorry, in terms of the 2012 election, that’s irrelevant. That won’t drive a single vote to the polling place. Bush isn’t running and the responsibility to turn it around isn’t his. Who is to blame isn’t relevant to who can fix this infernal mess. And thus far the building perception is that Obama isn’t the man.
And perceptions about his leadership have fallen precipitously as well – from a high of 85% in January 2009 to 57% now saying he displays strong leadership qualities (not sure what they think constitute strong leadership qualities, but I’ve never seen anything I’d say qualified as such during his entire presidency). That is even more bad news for his reelection campaign.
So it goes on and on, the downward trends obvious, the news not good. Obama is battling the same sort of perception that Jimmy Carter battled, that of a weak ineffective president. The voting public got rid of Carter, and, if the polls now coming out are to be believed (and trust me, his reelection campaign believe them) Obama is headed down the same electoral road.
In both cases, I think the voting public’s has/had it right.
Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.
Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.
Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.
Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”
Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:
Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.
So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:
The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.
Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.
Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:
In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.
His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.
These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?
Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?
So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.
Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:
America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”
I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.
Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.