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When Political Spin and Economic Realities Collide

As the unemployment rate climbs toward double digits, Obama's aura starts to fade. (Also read Roger L. Simon: "Media lemmings jumping? Reporters have 401ks too")

by
Jennifer Rubin

Bio

July 10, 2009 - 12:51 am

Back in February I wrote that there are indeed “two Americas” — a political one (then still fully enthralled with Barack Obama) and an economic one (already struggling with worsening unemployment and a downward spiral in investor and consumer confidence). And I predicted:

Eventually the two realms — economic and political — will collide. As elections draw near politicians on both sides and the MSM political coverage become very interested all of a sudden in the CPI, the Dow Jones, the trade deficit, and other financial indicators of our economic health.

Well, plainly I was wrong about the timing. The collision of the two realms has already occurred, well in advance of the 2010 elections.

Perhaps it was the June unemployment numbers. Maybe it was another negative trend in the stock market and credit delinquency rates. But the voters have awakened with a start. And more swiftly than many imagined, Obama’s poll numbers are tumbling.

Rasmussen shows just how dramatic a change we have seen:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Thursday shows that 30% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Thirty-eight percent (38%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -8.  … Thirty-nine percent (39%) now give the president good or excellent marks for handling the economy while 43% say he is doing a poor job. Those are by far his lowest ratings yet on the economy. … Overall, 51% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance so far. Forty-eight percent (48%) now disapprove.

It isn’t hard to figure out what is happening. The economic picture has overtaken, and finally begun to drown out, the political spin and hype generated by the White House and fanned by the cheerleaders in the mainstream media. Not even the New York Times can ignore the economic reality and its impact on the public’s assessment of the president’s performance:

With unemployment already at 9.5 percent and likely to exceed 10 percent, much higher than White House officials predicted back in February, Mr. Obama has been facing attacks that his $787 billion stimulus program was either too timid or wrong-headed or both. Now, just five months after Congress agreed on the plan, with only a fraction of the money actually out the door, Washington is debating the need for a second round of stimulus amid economic and political crosscurrents.

It has gotten so bad that even Jon Stewart is hollering at the president to just fix the economy.

The impact from the collision of economic reality and political spin will be felt in multiple ways. First, the Republican candidates for governor in New Jersey and Virginia need not feel quite so nervous about the president’s ability to bolster their opponents. Obama wants to come talk about the economy in Virginia? I suspect Republican Bob McDonnell wouldn’t mind a bit and would use the opportunity to put tough questions to his opponent Creigh Deeds. Does he support job-killing cap-and-trade? Does he agree with the president that there is not anything the administration should have done differently to fix the economy?

Second, every Democrat running for Congress or the Senate will be looking over his or her shoulder. Perhaps it is best to put some distance between the president’s agenda and their own voting records. And conversely, as we are already seeing, Republicans are enjoying the best recruitment in years as candidates line up to take on the Obama economic record. It might not be 1994, but 2010 is looking up for Republicans who will be happy to run on a simple message: stop the liberal train wreck and work on putting Americans back to work.

And most critically, the president’s agenda — cap-and-trade, nationalized health care, card check, and the like — suddenly seem not only at risk but irrelevant to the central issue on voters’ minds: the recession. In fact, his top legislative priorities are not likely to make things any better. The opposite is the case.

Voters and even the mainstream media will begin to ask tough questions. Why is he spending so much political capital on an energy tax and regulatory scheme that will sock it to employers in Midwestern states? Is a round of new taxes to pay for nationalized health care really what we need now?

As we contemplate the impact of the economy on the political realm, we should also keep in mind that the unemployment rate almost certainly will go higher and the stock market’s funk will likely continue as more employers and investors realize that unemployed Americans make poor consumers. The media treatment of the president therefore  is likely to get harsher, along with the rhetoric from the president’s opponents, as unemployment heads above double digits.

Obama, with the encouragement of his media fan club, may have convinced himself he could defy economic reality and float on a cloud of political popularity. But that’s not how politics works. Eventually presidents are held accountable for their actions and for the economy. It just happened sooner than some thought.

Jennifer Rubin blogs at the Washington Post.
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