Wednesday, September 2, 2009

About That Slide

David Brooks has everyone talking about Obama's slide in the polls. Charles Franklin is the place to go for a necessary correction on the numbers. For what it's worth, note that today's Gallup now has Obama at 54% approval; overall, the last round of polls has yielded a revised trend line on Pollster showing Obama's approval rating stabilizing just over 50% a week or two ago (and at 52.5% using only live interviews).

Jonathan Chait, indeed, thinks that "there can’t be anybody who follows politics who doesn’t believe August was terrible for the Democrats." Well, I follow politics, and I don't see that at all. After all, what really matters for the future of Obama and the Democrats? Here's a quick checklist:

1. The economy. If by August we mean the things we learned in August (much of which happened earlier), then I'd say August was very good for the Democrats. Conventional wisdom at the start of the year was that we'd be lucky to avoid a worldwide depression; conventional wisdom in the late spring was that we had avoided depression but that a Great Recession could easily stretch into 2010, with job growth too far over the horizon to even wonder about. Over the last six weeks or so, conventional wisdom has shifted to an understanding that the recession is either over or almost over; we're now entering the slow recovery phase, but it's a lot easier to imagine the economy as a plus campaign issue for the Democrats as early as 2010. Granted, there are dangers, but August has been good on this issue, which is by far the most important for the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.

2. Iraq. Yup, I think it's still the #2 issue; there are a lot of ways for the Democrats to get into trouble if Iraq turns dramatically for the worse. But that didn't happen in August; in fact, American deaths in Iraq apparently hit a new low (seven, one fewer than the eight in July). Yes, there are problems in Iraq, but it increasingly looks likely that Obama and the Democrats will avoid being blamed for the continuing troubles there.

3. Afghanistan. Here, the news was of course not as good. American and allied casualties hit a record high again, and the election certainly doesn't seem to have been a major success. Politically, the trick for Obama (here and in Iraq) is to maneuver away from too much American involvement, on the one side, and clear failures for which the administration takes the blame, on the other side. The best news in Afghanistan is probably not found there or in Pakistan but in Iraq, where Obama has demonstrated that he's willing to stay the course on withdrawal even in the face of short-term bad news, but this area was not a plus in August.

4. The rest of the world. Probably of very minor electoral importance (and should be ranked #5, but I'm cheating). It seems to me that Obama had a pretty good month outside of the current active wars, with a bit of good news from Israel/Palestine, and a fair amount of (short term at least) good news from North Korea.

That leaves:

5. Health care. I've talked enough about this; basically, there was a noisy sideshow in August that was thoroughly predictable, and that as far as I can see did no lasting damage to Obama, the Democrats, or the prospects of getting a bill through Congress. On the stuff that really matters -- the search for political cover for marginal Democrats -- August was a mixed bag, as Enzi, Grassley, and the Republicans in general gave lots of evidence for the proposition that the failure of bipartisanship is the fault of a rejectionist GOP, along with a reluctance of inside-the-Beltway opinion makers to accept that evidence. I like the ground that the Democrats hold here a lot better than I like the ground the Republicans are trying to play on; the Republicans demonstrated again their big problem with crazy. All in all, I don't think very much happened in health care in August, and what did happen looks like a wash to me.

Really, the big thing that happened in August was continuing although still modest and inconclusive good news about the economy. That's what's important, and not the day-to-day junk on the Hannity and Maddow shows.

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