Swing State Pres

Monday, October 7, 2013

September Month in Review: Obama Turns Tough Guy (October 7, 2013)

Barack Obama is apparently mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more.  No more “Mr. Lead From Behind.”  No more negotiating under threat of government shutdowns and default deadlines. 

The Obama Administration had been drifting along in a listless second term, tethered to an economy characterized by steady but very slow improvement, stuck in a series of relatively modest, acronym-laden controversies (NSA, IRS, AP, etc), unable to deliver on a domestic agenda in the face of implacable opposition (see: immigration, gun control), and at the mercy of a careening Middle East.

And then, a foreign policy crisis and a series of domestic budget/deficit deadlines catalyzed the administration into very hard-nosed positions that may well be defining for the duration of the Obama presidency.  In both instances, Obama has been far from the passive take-what-I-can-get negotiator that even his followers have come to despair.  It’s amazing what re-elections – and no more elections – will do for the spine.

Of course I am talking about Syria and the current budget impasse.  Starting with Syria, I am reminded of the Branch Rickey gem, “Luck is the residue of design.”  The “design” aspect may have had all the elegance of sausage-making, but the outcome could turn out very well indeed.  Obama staked out a lonely position after the Assad regime’s chemical attack on its own people, threatening military action that had little support either internationally or domestically.  But clearly it was Obama’s threat and John Kerry’s trial balloon calling for unilateral Syrian surrender of its chemical weapons that have set us on a path of peaceful destruction of that very arsenal. 

Obama is being lambasted for “on the fly diplomacy,” but where would we be save for these twin administration actions?  So the Russians bit on Kerry’s “off the cuff” call for a Syrian weapon surrender and ran with it…this is bad?  And while there is a long way to go in the dismantling and verification processes, if Assad chooses to use chemical weapons again while this process is underway, I think it is clear that world reaction would be far more hostile and unified than the first time.

As for the government shutdown, I have another favorite quote, this one from Rahm Emanuel, and I quote it in full:  “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”  President Obama is taking a tough stand again – no negotiations whatsoever on any aspects of Obamacare, or any other program, for that matter -- and his calculus on this one is a good deal clearer.  One part is principle, that the Tea Party (or any subset of legislators) cannot be allowed to hold the nation hostage (whether the result be a shutdown or a default on the debt) simply to weaken laws they don’t like.  And the other part is politics, his read that the American people agree with him, and therefore the risk of a hard line stance is worth it.  Essentially, he wants to use this crisis to break the Tea Party, and break it now, by denying them their only weapon.

He could be right.  Survey after survey shows the following:

·        The Tea Party is weakening.  Tea Party support is down to its near-record low of 22% (the high was 32% and the low 21%).  (Gallup)
·        Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Americans fault the Republicans’ handling of the Budget crisis, versus 56% faulting Democrats and 50% President Obama (ABC/Washington Post)
·        Just 27% of Americans think it is a good idea to use a government shutdown as a means of blocking or weakening Obamacare (ABC/Washington Post)

Many other polls support these general numbers.  The only question is whether, as the shutdown proceeds, the gap between those who fault the Republicans, Democrats or Obama narrows, thus putting pressure on Obama.  But the moderate House Republicans appear to be the noisiest ones at this point, trying to see if they have enough votes to create a counter-rebellion within their own party.

To that point, I’m not sure the American people understand that the House would almost certainly support the “clean” Senate bill for a continuing budget resolution with “no strings attached” (that is, nothing related to Obamacare or any other issue) if they were allowed to vote on it, as such a bill would be supported by House Democrats and enough moderate Republicans to create a majority.    But Speaker Boehner has been reluctant to violate the so-called “Hastert Rule” that no legislation should be brought forward without majority Republican support.  The Tea Party opposition prevents this, thus their outsized power.

Boehner has indicated he will go just that route at the next impasse, the debt ceiling that needs to be raised by October 17th.  But thus far, he continues to lead the charge on the government shutdown.  Perhaps he is simply delaying his inevitable fold until the debt crisis comes to the fore…one wag said, “If you know you are going to take a bullet, take only one.”

I’ve thought long and hard whether to devote any space in this monthly update to Senator Ted Cruz.  The spectacle of his 21-hour non-filibuster (unlike a normal filibuster, this lengthy rant could not serve the usual purpose of delaying a vote beyond a required deadline) was noteworthy, in the main, for its utter disregard of a political “exit strategy.” Its only real purpose was to identify Ted Cruz as the face of anti-Obamacare, a nice identity to run on in Iowa.  Cruz was excoriated by his fellow GOP Senators for not having an answer to the question, “If we go along with you, what next?”   Most sensible Republicans know these shutdowns and debt ceiling crusades only really hurt the GOP, and change nothing.

THE NUMBERS

History may look back on this monthly kindly for President Obama, but current public support continues to flag, albeit slowly.  He is now at a net -6.2 approval rating (based on 39 polls) for the month, an 8-point swing from his Election Day 2012 +2.2.  The seeming dithering on Syria and the early shutdown madness clearly hurt him this month, as well as another month of glacial economic improvement.

Obama Approval Rating
7-Nov
8-Jul
5-Aug
5-Sep
5-Oct
  Approve
49.6
46.0
46.0
45.1
45.3
  Disapprove
47.4
48.7
48.8
49.6
51.5
  Net
2.2
-2.7
-2.7
-4.5
-6.2

The Econometer gives evidence of that stasis.  Because of the shutdown, the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not have employee on board to put together the monthly unemployment report.  Other measures were relatively flat.

Econometer
7-Nov
8-Jul
5-Aug
5-Sep
5-Oct
Econometer
0.0
27.5
33.3
32.1
33.1
  Unemployment Rate
7.9
7.6
7.4
7.3
7.3
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
81.4
80.3
81.5
79.7
  Price of Gas
3.71
3.64
3.72
3.65
3.59
  Dow Jones
    13,330
    15,013
    15,506
    15,098
    15,321
  GDP
3.1
1.8
2.5
2.5
2.5

But the biggest change of the month has been the swing of the so-called “generic” congressional ballot in favor of the Democrats by a healthy 3.4 points.  That perhaps is the clearest evidence yet of who is losing the most in a town that at this point is devoid of winners.

Generic Congressional Ballot
7-Nov
8-Jul
5-Aug
5-Sep
5-Oct
  Democrat
46.3
39.3
40.5
38.4
41.9
  Republican
46.0
41.3
39.5
38.8
38.4
  Net
0.3
-2.0
1.0
-0.4
3.4


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