Commentary Magazine


The Longest Honeymoon

Barack Obama’s approval ratings have remained sky high, despite any association with Rod Blagojevich. Two out of three respondents in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll say they’re pleased with Obama’s appointments, and three out of four approve of his level of involvement in policy making, so far. Two-thirds “view the president-elect in a positive light – a rating that’s more favorable than the numbers Bill Clinton and George W. Bush received 1992 and 2000.”

Obama hasn’t done anything grossly objectionable in the past month, but the following indicates that if and when he does, that will be fine, too:

These scores, combined with the fact that nearly 80 percent believe Obama will face bigger challenges than other recent presidents have, seem to have given the president-elect some early leeway with Americans, says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

“Compared to Bill Clinton in ’93 or Bush in ’01, we’re seeing a president who has been given a longer leash by the American public,” McInturff said. “This is not a traditional start of a presidency where people give you just a couple of months.”

Sure, George W. Bush didn’t face any big challenges. That must be why the public was so tough on him.

Contrary to McInturff, there is no “traditional start of a presidency.” All presidents are dropped into history in real time. Bill Clinton was handed the stewardship of a thoroughly post-Cold War free world. He was charged with redefining America’s role in history. Was that traditional? George W. Bush was completely blindsided by an attack on American soil and the onset of a multi-theater, asymmetric war. Business as usual?

One could even make the argument that Obama has the benefit of seeing key crises laid out far in advance. Moreover, he’s beginning his term after failures to address the biggest challenge have been righted: the Iraq War is being won. President Obama will enjoy the post-hoc understanding of what works in the War on Terror and what doesn’t. He can call it anything he wants, but his continuing with Bush policies and Bush personnel speak to this enlightenment. It’s only the American public who seem not to have paid much attention.