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War of choice getting in the way of Obama’s preferred message?

Interesting story from Glenn Thrush at POLITICO. And, of course, it is about pure politics.   It seems that Obama’s decision to go to war with Libya has caused a distraction from the most pressing domestic issue – the economy.  And just when some half-way decent news on unemployment is evident.

But in the view of his closest allies, Libya is drowning out his attempts to portray himself as an economic commander-in-chief fighting a series of new threats to the fragile U.S. recovery, especially the devastating and politically poisonous rise in gas prices.

The most recent example: On Friday, press secretary Jay Carney hoped to spend quality time with the White House press corps discussing an upbeat March employment report showing the economy added 216,000 jobs, outpacing analysts’ estimates.

But he was asked a grand total of two questions about the report. He fielded 16 about Libya and at one point had to sneak in a plug for the positive job numbers when a reporter asked a question about budget negotiations with Congress.

“Don’t tell me Libya is not a distraction,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Dealing with a military operation of this complexity, with this many moving parts, takes an enormous amount of the president’s time. We’re talking about hours and hours a day dealing with his national security staff. … It has an impact on everything else.”

Now obviously, it we have to go to war for a good reason – an actual imminent danger or threat to our national security – then you don’t worry about how it will effect the political agenda.  You do your duty as CiC.  In fact, a President can normally expect it to help him politically – to get a pretty good bump in the polls – as the nation comes together behind them.

But when the war is perceived as a “war of choice” or a “dumb war”, such a bump may not be forthcoming – as in the case of the war against Libya:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 37% give the president good or excellent ratings on his handling of national security issues. Slightly more voters (40%) say the president is doing a poor job when it comes to national security.

Rasmussen isn’t the only polling service to have those numbers:

Just 39 percent of Americans think Obama has clear goals in Libya, while 50 percent think he doesn’t, according to poll results released Monday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Just 47 percent of Americans support the U.S. airstrikes, while 36 percent don’t and 17 percent don’t know, according to the Pew poll.

The Gallup Poll found similar results, the lowest level of initial support for a U.S. military action in at least three decades, and the first time in 10 interventions dating to the 1983 invasion of Grenada that a majority of Americans didn’t support the action at the onset.

Translation?   This is a political problem of Obama’s own making.  And on the eve of launching his re-election campaign to boot.  Not smart politics – not smart at all.  He’s literally “created” a story by his decision to wage a war of choice that will dominate the news and any other message he tries to spin.  What is clear is that despite the announced hand-over or pullback in US participation, the press continues to treat it like it should be treated – a war instigated and started by the US (and others) and continuing to have US participation whatever the level.

And we’re starting to hear about how overtaxed our coalition partners are now.  The UK for example,.  Says the head of the RAF:

With the RAF playing an important role in Libya, where bombers, fighter jets and surveillance aircraft have all been involved over the past fortnight, he admitted the service was now stretched to the limit.

[Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen] Dalton, 57, said the RAF was planning to continue operations over Libya for at least six months. His assumption is that planes will be needed "for a number of months rather than a number of days or weeks".

Did you catch that last sentence?  Months instead of weeks.  So we can expect to see this remain in the news for some time and we can most likely expect to see more and more of the coalition members whining about their level of participation and attempting to get a higher level of US participation.  Already, this weekend, the US flew more sorties in the NFZ than previously planned.

So here you have a classic example of not only a dumb war, but dumb politics.  That’s usually what happens when you make snap-decisions without any planning while apparently completely underestimating the reaction of the American people.

Not that anyone on the left will admit that or anything.

~McQ

Reading the polls

A couple of interesting polls to note today.  The first concerns labor union popularity.  They aren’t.  Popular that is.  Or at least not at all as popular as they once were.  Pew reports:

Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions’ purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.

Those are the worst favorables for labor unions since 1985 (and lower than even that year).  A majority of Democrats still have a favorable view of unions (56%) while Republicans (29%) and the all important independents (38%) don’t.  My guess is the dramatic and highly visible political role played by unions in the 2008 presidential election (especially the SEIU which is also linked with the ever popular ACORN) as well as their role in trying to pack town halls to freeze out protesters this last summer have contributed to the unfavorable view labor unions now enjoy.  And, of course, government handing over majority ownership to unions in the GM and Chrysler bailouts also had a hand in driving their favorables down as that was seen as a pretty blatant political payoff.  This poll is another indication that Americans are indeed watching what has been going on, are aware of what has happened and don’t like it at all.

Speaking of government, or at least one branch of it, Rasmussen has its poll on Congressional approval out.  Unsurprisingly Congress has achieved new record lows.

Voter unhappiness with Congress has reached the highest level ever recorded by Rasmussen Reports as 71% now say the legislature is doing a poor job.

That’s up ten points from the previous high of 61% reached a month ago.

10 points?  In a month? That’s not a decline.  That’s freefall.  And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.  But the message is found in some of the responses within the poll.  For instance:

Nearly half of Democratic voters (48%) now give Congress a poor rating, up 17 points since January.

That 48% is probably upset that the Democratic Congress hasn’t delivered on it’s promised agenda. While that certainly adds to the overall unfavorable rating, it’s one that could flip in an instant should that agenda be muscled through (something that seems less and less likely now).

Seventy percent (70%) of voters say Congress has not passed any legislation that would significantly improve life for Americans, up 10 points over the past month and the highest level of dissatisfaction measured in regular tracking in over three years.

Again, part of that is probably that 48% Democrats not happy that the agenda is stalled. And that could include a portion of liberal leaning indies as well. But:

Forty percent (40%) of voters nationwide now say it is at least somewhat likely Congress will seriously address the most important issues facing the nation. That’s down from 59% last March. Only 9% say it is Very Likely Congress will address these issues.

Any guess what the “most important issues facing the nation” are?

Well it’s not health care:

As Congress continues to hash out the health care reform plan proposed by the president and Congressional Democrats, just 41% of voters favor the plan while 56% are opposed. Sixty-three percent (63%) of all voters say a better strategy to reform the health care system would be to pass smaller bills that address problems individually.

In fact, as Joe Biden has said, “it’s three letters. J.O.B.S.”. It is the economy and jobs. What is becoming increasingly clear is the administration and Congress have no idea how to get that done – well, except creating government jobs.

But before Congressional Democrats get all giddy thinking they can turn these numbers by pushing their agenda through come hell or high water, they need to again try to understand the present mood of the electorate – the mood they – the presently serving members of Congress on both sides – have helped create:

Other recent polling also reflects voter disappointment in Congress. Earlier this month, 63% of voters said it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were defeated this November. Just 27% of voters say their representative in Congress is the best possible person for the job.

Three out of four voters (75%) report being at least somewhat angry at the policies of the federal government. Part of the frustration is likely due to the belief of 60% of voters that neither Republican political leaders nor Democratic political leaders have a good understanding of what is needed today.

Still, voters believe Democrats are more likely than Republicans to have a plan for the future.

Regardless of which political side voters are on, just 21% believe that the federal government enjoys the consent of the governed.

Read all of that carefully – that’s the rest of the Tea Party iceberg uncovered for you. As I’ve been saying for a year, the economic and financial meltdown and the government’s reaction was more than enough to jar the population from it’s complacency. Politicians still haven’t figured that out even though protesters and polls have been loudly announcing it for months. Congress and government in general is considered to out-of-touch and out of control. The dissatisfaction is focused on the Democrats at the moment because they represent the government establishment now, but it is clearly a dissatisfaction that crosses party lines. And I’m not sure the GOP has figured it out anymore than have the Democrats.

And while the GOP leads in the generic poll, the perception of Congress and the politicians therein is not a pretty one:

Just 9% of voters believe most members of Congress are genuinely interested in helping people, which ties the recent low in December. Eighty-one percent (81%) say most members of Congress are more interested in their own careers, a new multi-year high.

The plurality of voters (42%) continues to believe most members of Congress are corrupt, a result that has remained fairly consistent over the past several months. One in three U.S. voters (32%) does not see most congressmen as corrupt. Another 26% are undecided.

It’s why I continue to think that the first Tuesday night in November will be “must see TV”. Will this dissatisfaction manifest itself in the voting booth? And if it does, what will be the outcome for the next Congress?

More importantly what if it doesn’t? Is there enough anger and discontent out there to drive people to the voting booth?  And if it doesn’t, won’t we then get precisely what we deserve? And finally, if we get what we deserve, won’t politicians rightly surmise they can ignore the public for the most part since there’s really no penalty for doing so?

~McQ

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