Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman provides context to Obama’s declining popularity, currently around 50 percent, depending on the poll. He’s simply following the usual path of a new president’s first year. In fact, the Dallas Morning News headline outs it this way: “Just Like Reagan.” Mr. Greed-Is-Good, however, rebounded to win 49 states in the next next election. George W. Bush was on his way to suffering the same fate in his first year, but for 9/11, which despite it being his administration that let its guard down and cost the lives of 3,000 people, that helped his popularity soared.
Chapman cites research by Stanford University professor Douglas Rivers.
Though Obama rated the lowest of recent presidents at the end of his first year, Rivers says the pattern "is pretty much in line with what you would expect." What we see is "more a continuing trend than an Obama phenomenon."
That’s not to say Obama has made no mistakes. Every president bungles some things, and every president pays a price.
His fiscal policy and health care plan, in particular, have spawned public resentment. On the other hand, his grades on gay rights and immigration have actually improved — possibly because he has done less than expected on either. There is no real evidence to suggest that the public finds Obama far more fallible or detestable than they usually find presidents at this stage.
On health care reform, it’s not clear what he could have done differently to appease a notoriously demanding citizenry. Surveys indicate people think that if his plan passes, they will get "worse care at a higher cost," says Rivers. What do they expect if his plan doesn’t pass? "They’ll get worse care at a higher cost."
I wish I could say Americans’ suspicion of health care reform shows a sensible appreciation of the limits of government power and responsibility. But I suspect the real problem is they fear it will not guarantee them everything they want at someone else’s expense. Rivers notes that when you ask people about specific components of the plan, they turn out to be "fairly popular."
If Americans distrust the government, they also take a dim view of the private sector, or parts of it. "Anything negative for insurance companies is popular," says Rivers. Most people blame insurers for rising health care expenditures, even though insurance companies are one of the few constituencies with a powerful interest in reducing outlays.
This is not the contradiction it may appear. People don’t mind when national health care costs rise. They do mind when their personal health care costs rise. When that happens, they blame health insurers. They may also blame the president.
But most important is Chapman’s observation of politicians and the media, pointing out how frustrating it is to see the amount of newsprint dedicated to the daily politics of reform and the insipid observations of the pundit class.
American politicians and commentators are generally not afflicted by a deep knowledge or appreciation of history. If they were, they would not waste their time laboring to explain something that requires little explanation. They could simply state the obvious — new presidents invariably lose public esteem in the first year of their terms — and go on to try to explicate something truly mysterious, like Lady Gaga.
It’s a mistake to think every political trend has deep meaning.