Sixty days before the mid-term elections President Obama’s approval ratings languished at a “Bushian” 38%. Democratic candidates did everything in their power to distance themselves from the president and his “failed policies.” Democratic leaders like Chuck Schumer criticized the president publically for spending far too much of his political capital on health reform while ignoring the country’s desperate need for jobs.
Republicans were only too happy to seize upon the opportunity presented by the president’s party. They trumpeted the president’s lagging popularity and noted rightly that even his supposed supporters on the Hill had lost faith in his leadership.
Republicans sensed they had a winning strategy and they rode that horse to a huge mid-term victory. Having increased their majority in the House and gained control of the Senate, Republicans spoke openly of wresting control of the White House in 2016. In the meantime they promised to reward the voters who swept them to power by dismantling all of the “failed big government policies of the past six years.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2016 inaugural ball.
Once the mid-tem votes were counted Republicans expected to be greeted by a cowed, conciliatory president; nursing his political wounds…humbly seeking some amount of consideration for the effort. Instead they found themselves confronted by an extremely confident and combative president whom Mitch McConnell noted “seemed to be running for a third term.”
No longer shackled by the prospects of future campaigns President Obama emerged from the mid-terms as more conquering hero than beleaguered lame duck. He said quite plainly if the new congress would not work with him then he would go it alone wherever he could. He used his executive authority to engage a bombing campaign against ISIS, to sign a controversial trade agreement with China, to raise the minimum wage of federal workers and to temporarily stay the deportation of over 5 million illegal immigrants. In a State of the Union address that was as combative as any campaign speech he has ever given, he challenged Republicans to set aside party differences and join him in doing the people’s work. He made it clear that he had no more campaigns to run and therefore nothing to lose.
Voters responded. Today the president’s approval rating stands at 50% and the Republican path to the White House seems far less certain.
You see the Republicans, pundits and at risk Democratic candidates misinterpreted those pre-mid-term polls. Voters didn’t want the president to roll back his agenda…they wanted him to fight harder and push the envelope further. How do I know this?
Because I was one of those polled. I was one of those people who generally supports the president’s agenda but disapproves of the way he is handling his job. I don’t want him to roll back his agenda. I want him to fight harder for those things he promised. So when asked if I approve of the way the president is handling his job, my answer before the mid-terms was a resounding “NO”. But when asked that same question today my answer is a resounding “Yes.” This is the Obama that I want to see. And millions of Americans agree with me.
Taken individually, most of the items on the president’s agenda are wildly popular among the electorate. I want a president who fights for those principles but is willing to compromise to get things done. I understand that the president can’t get everything he wants. But by throwing down the “my way or the highway” gauntlet in the past or sidestepping issues for political expediency, his tactics are not any different than those of his obstructionist opponents. The key is to compromise and get something in return to move the agenda forward. You want to raise the minimum wage…give Republicans a lower corporate tax rate in exchange. You want a massive infrastructure bill…work out a common sense increase in the eligibility age for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
The president’s agenda has not changed. It remains popular among a vast majority of the electorate. It’s his tactics that have played hell with his approval/disapproval among the masses.
Post mid-term Obama is the one the voters elected…twice.
The polls don’t lie. You just have to know how to read them.