As Obama returns from vacation, there is a sense – conventional wisdom, really – that the White House is in deep trouble, and that this fall will make the summer look like good times, just as Obama’s summer made the spring look like good times. David Broder, admitting he was wrong to predict a pro-Obama backlash to angry crowds at town halls, now declares that “what he faces on his return to Washington is sheer hell.”
Maybe, but maybe not. Democrats still have wide majorities in the House and Senate. Also, as opponents of Obama’s agenda contemplate their next moves, it is important to not overestimate their own strength or Obama’s current weakness. The country does not see Obama the way conservatives see him. Independents don’t fear him, disdain him, or react to his moves with fury. They are wary, disillusioned and suspicious. But the public hasn’t quite tuned him out, or turned their backs to him, yet.
Yes, his approval rating has dropped dramatically from its heights, but even after this long, hard slide, President Obama’s approval is still a bit higher than his disapproval in most polls. Republicans have a tiny margin in the generic congressional ballot, but that kind of lead, 14 months before Election Day, and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Perhaps most ominously for Republicans, the disillusionment, disappointment, and distrust of Democratic-controlled government is not driving people to prefer Republicans or identify as such.
Obama, Pelosi, and Reid may be able to muscle through a health-care reform bill that includes most of the provisions driving the public skepticism; Blue Dog Democrats are not Republicans and shouldn’t be counted on to vote as such. A similar legislative bulldozer approach may get cap-and-trade passed. The governor’s race in New Jersey shows signs of tightening, and the race in Virginia should tighten.
On Election Day 2008, many Americans didn’t like where they were. Nearly a year later, they still don’t like where they are; they feel like they’re stuck with the same problems or that they’re worsening. But they’re not convinced that the Republicans have the solutions. For the Right, the job is barely halfway done.