OFF THE GRID

It’s the End of Obama—It’s Just Got to Be!

Jul 21, 09 | 9:39 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The president, in the Republican view, is about to crash and burn. He’s tied himself to the biggest albatrosses of the day: health care reform, the economic bailout, Afghanistan, the deficit. “Barack Obama,” say two editors from Reason magazine in the pages of the Washington Post, “seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country: a sad-sack landscape in which every major initiative meets not just with failure but with scorn from political allies and foes alike.”

His approval rating is down 11%. There’s a fat majority—57%—who think the country’s going in the wrong direction. He’s doing too much, according to the Republicans, desperate for his fall. He hasn’t focused. He doesn’t have ownership of a successful initiative. All he’s got is a gooey vision of big government somehow being better than a cold and clever free market system. 

David Brooks, in the New York Times, calls it a suicide march. He argues that the Democrats are doing exactly what the Republicans did—they are going too far, being too ideological, losing touch with the American mainstream. Brooks neglects to point out, however, that it took the Republicans nearly 20 years of pushing in their particular ideological direction before they lost the mainstream.

Brooks does add, as a qualifying side note: “Most Americans love Barack Obama personally, but support for Democratic policies is already sliding fast.”

That’s the Republican thesis (or hope against hope): Unpopular policies—all of his policies in the Republican telling are unpopular—will turn even Barack Obama into an unpopular president.

The Obama thesis becomes clearer everyday and is the exact opposite: Personal popularity insulates unpopular (or at least difficult) policies. And, further, what is the point of personal popularity if you don’t spend it on difficult policies?

Personal popularity is a bitter political pill if it's not in the service of your interests. The point about evoking Jimmy Carter, who was never particularly popular, is to hope that Barack Obama will somehow overnight transform into an unappealing and uncharismatic figure.

But popularity has a political will of its own. Let’s briefly revisit the horrifying years of George Bush’s immense popularity. And, oh my God, Ronald Reagan—the most inexplicably popular man in history.

Political love, even in this fickle age, has some weird power that we should all be a little afraid of—especially, in this instance, the Republicans.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.

   

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