Barack Obama has presided over five years of a sickly economy, a doubling of the food stamp rolls, a contracting labor force, high unemployment, towering deficits and shrinking respect from both allies and enemies around the world. It’s a performance far worse than that of George W. Bush.
Yet while President Bush’s approval ratings headed straight for the cellar early in his second term, President Obama’s have, to a large degree, defied gravity.
Americans were willing to let Bill Clinton slide on the charges that got him impeached. The country largely yawned at the Iran-Contra scandal of the second Reagan term. That’s because both Clinton and Reagan were presiding over robust economies.
Barack Obama is not. Which is too bad for him right now.
Against the backdrop of a persistently weak economy, the country has limited patience for the kind of gross incompetence as exhibited by the laughable-if-it-didn’t-have-the-police-power-of-the-state-behind-it Obamacare website rollout.
Moreover, Americans just now are in no mood for bad news as it impacts them personally. Thus, President Obama is in for a very rough ride as it pertains to the seven to 14 million people who have or will soon get cancellation notices from their health insurance companies.
Until Obamacare went “live,” most people viewed the debate on health care as purely political and mostly abstract. After all, health insurance economics may be an arcane topic for most people but everyone understands that eBay, Amazon, FedEx and 1-800-flowers.com all have functioning websites. (Amazon alone gets 70 million visits per day.)
Now it’s real. And the reality is causing heartburn for the Obama administration that will likely persist until the president’s term ends. That represents a jarring change of circumstances for the White House and by extension, the Democratic Party.
Until just now, President Obama has been able to float above the fray. His aloof style and almost sullen coolness were lauded by his supporters (which includes most of the media) as a sign of his high intellect and far-seeing vision.
No matter what happened – Fast & Furious gun running, massive corruption at the IRS, the wiretapping of Fox News reporters, death by terrorism at Benghazi – the president would simply speak from his perch at 30,000 feet and somehow avoid becoming connected to whatever ugly reality was down on the ground.
It took the Obamacare website fiasco to yank the president back to Earth.
The entire Obama persona – the hands-off relationship with Congress, the almost non-existent relationship with most of his cabinet, the aloofness, the Final Four brackets, the shooting of hoops. the playing of golf – are all suddenly looking a lot less like cool and a lot more like incompetence.
But the real bad news for Obama is that the dysfunctional website may actually be the least of it.
Six years of hopeful promises – including one promise in particular – are now coming home to roost on the White House lawn. The president is now seen as having broken a clearly stated and oft-repeated promise and the breaking of that promise is directly impacting real people with real names and real faces that are showing up on TV.
The promise embodied in, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” came to bedevil George H.W. Bush and the Republicans.
For President Obama, and the legacy he leaves for his Democratic Party successors, it will be, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Period.”