Saturday, May 12, 2012

Substance, Not Style, Is Hurting Obama

Fox News analyst Dick Morris has repeatedly criticized President Obama for taking too many vacations in “East Coast elite” playgrounds like Martha’s Vineyard; for speaking out on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates when there was reasonable cause for suspicion; for playing basketball with NBA celebrities and doing an NCAA tournament bracket when he could have been working on more important things; and for going on expensive overseas family trips when the average family is struggling.
Morris has certainly had a successful career, advising both Democrats (Bill Clinton) and Republicans (Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott). And his point that style can sometimes reveal character flaws and/or absence of vision that hurts a leader is well-taken. But in this case, there is strong evidence that President Obama’s struggles in the polls are based on the inability to solve the real-world economic problems that are plaguing ordinary Americans. In short, the president’s lackluster approval ratings are based on substance, not style.

To recap, President Obama was elected in 2008 with 53% of the national popular vote, the best performance for a Democrat nominee since Lyndon Johnson won a record 61.1% in 1964. The president got off to an excellent start in his first six months in office with job approval ratings ranging from a low of 55% in May of 2009 to a high of 76% in the February 2009 CNN poll. In the summer of 2009, as the Tea Party began to organize in response to the president’s health care reform proposal, Mr. Obama’s polls began to dip into the low 50s and finally fell consistently just below the dangerous 50% level in July and August of 2009.

At the same time in the first half of 2009, the Great Recession that began in December of 2007 continued to take its toll on the economy. More than 10 million net private sector jobs were lost as the national unemployment rate reached 10% in the winter of 2010. The total number of Americans working peaked in the winter of 2007-08 at roughly 139 million. The economy finally hit bottom a year after President Obama took office with the number of Americans working down to just 127 million.  That’s a stunning loss of 12 million jobs, the biggest decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Although the job market has recovered somewhat to an estimated 133 million Americans working in 2012, we’re still 6 million jobs below the previous peak. The economy is currently creating about 250,000 jobs per month. At that rate, it will be another two years to just get to the 2008 level, meaning this was a six-year jobs slump.

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