WASHINGTON – Just weeks after a government shutdown fight took the Republican Party to a record low in popularity, it is President Obama’s turn to be on the receiving end of the public’s wrath. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds Obama at the lowest point in his presidency with 42 percent approval, and 51 percent disapproving.
Like a house that has lost value, the president is underwater, and there’s no single reason, the poll finds. A combination of events from the costly shutdown to almost daily revelations of National Security Agency spying, confusing shifts in our Syria policy, and now the constant drumbeat over the flaws in the healthcare.gov website together with ongoing efforts by Republicans to discredit and dismantle the law.
That’s a lot to deal with not only substantively but also from a public-relations standpoint, and the administration has not been doing well on the PR front. After the shutdown, political observers applauded Obama’s fortitude in staring down the tea party wing of the GOP. They said it was an opportunity for Obama to re-boot his second term, to launch a fresh beginning after a disappointing start.
That might have happened, but then came Obamacare with all its glitches, and the Republicans turned their firepower on the website as a proxy for a law they never supported and still hope to repeal. Obama is taking a lot of heat for claiming: If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. But he cannot override decisions made by private insurance companies canceling policies that are no longer profitable, and that don’t meet a minimum standard of care under the Affordable Care Act.
Only a very small sliver of the population that buys insurance on the individual market will be negatively affected, paying more for better benefits they might not want or need, and their voices are drowning out the much larger number of Americans who will benefit from the law. For the next year, we will see dueling campaigns for and against Obamacare as Republicans and Democrats gear up for the 2014 elections as a referendum on the law’s effectiveness and popularity. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the system-overload problem is an indication of the program’s popularity.
The ongoing story about the excesses of the NSA in gathering information about America’s allies and in monitoring Internet search engines cast a pall on Obama even though these programs were put in place on his predecessor’s watch. They’re now coming home to roost with Obama because we’ve had more than a decade of safety from large-scale attacks on the homeland, and critics are freer to question whether some of these programs should be reined in.
Politically, the debate exposes how far Obama as president has strayed from the positions he took when President Bush was in the Oval Office having to make the decisions. It’s a lot easier to come down on the side of the civil libertarians when you’re not getting the threat assessment briefing from the NSA each morning. Obama has made some adjustments, and more are promised by the end of the year after a full-scale review, but the revelations brought to light by Edward Snowden have taken a toll on Obama and revealed where he has fallen short in his promises of greater government transparency.
Lastly, on the pollsters’ list of issues that have dragged down Obama’s poll rating, there is Syria. The civil war rages on and it’s not clear what if anything more the U.S. can or should do, but Obama deserves credit for forcing the issue over chemical weapons. The Assad regime this week met the first target in the destruction of those weapons, a positive development for the Syrian people, the Middle East region, and for Obama in an otherwise bleak landscape of news.
U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.