The Diminished President
Russ Douhat says that by all normal measures, the president should have been the winner of the debt ceiling debate. Instead he emerges as a shrunken figure.
By rights, Barack Obama should be emerging as the big political winner in the debt ceiling debate. For months, he’s positioned himself near the center of public opinion, leaving Republicans to occupy the rightward flank. Poll after poll suggests that Americans prefer the president’s call for a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to the Republican Party’s anti-tax approach. Poll after poll shows that House Republicans, not Obama, would take most of the blame if the debt ceiling weren’t raised.
Yet the president’s approval ratings have been sinking steadily for weeks, hitting a George W. Bush-esque low of 40 percent in a recent Gallup survey. The voters incline toward Obama on the issues, still like him personally and consider the Republican opposition too extreme. But they are increasingly judging his presidency a failure anyway.
The administration would no doubt blame this judgment on the steady stream of miserable economic news. But it should save some of the blame for its own political approach. Ever since the midterms, the White House’s tactics have consistently maximized President Obama’s short-term advantage while diminishing his overall authority. Call it the “too clever by half” presidency: the administration’s maneuvering keeps working out as planned, but Obama’s position keeps eroding. ...
But winning a debate on points isn’t a substitute for looking like a leader. It’s one thing to bemoan politics-as-usual when you’re running for the White House. It’s quite another to publicly throw up your hands over our “dysfunctional government” when you’re the man the voters put in charge of it.