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Is Obama as Unstoppable as He Seems?

I wanted to dilate on my earlier analysis of President Obama and his standing with the public so far.

Almost five months after taking office, Barack Obama remains an extremely popular personality, with 67 percent favorability ratings, according to a Gallup Poll. His overall approval rating is below his personal popularity but, at 62 percent, is also quite strong. Obama’s policies are generally less popular than his approval ratings; the popularity of the most important policies — those related to the economy — is nearly lowest of all. (Since February his approval rating has dropped from 59 percent to 55 percent, while his disapproval rating has increased by 12 points, from 30 percent to 42 percent.) On a sub-set of economic issues — the federal budget deficit and controlling federal spending — Obama’s approval rating is in the mid-40s. And the news in this arena may well get worse rather than better for Obama going forward.

To be fair to Obama, he inherited a large deficit and debt upon taking office, triggered by the financial and credit crisis of 2008. But in the face of that, Obama, rather than focusing his attention on restraining federal spending, did the opposite. He passed a hugely expensive ($787 billion) stimulus package. Then came the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, complete with more than 8,500 earmarks. He followed that up with a record-setting, $3.6 trillion budget. And now Obama is attempting to nationalize health care, which would translate into the most expensive social program in history.

The president has thrown his hat over the fiscal wall. He is committed to spending unprecedented sums of money; what we are finding is that he doesn’t have a serious plan to pay for it (think of it as the economic equivalent of Guantanamo Bay; he announced he would close it without having prepared a plan to close it, and an idea that used to seem like a winner is looking more and more problematic). The concern for Obama is that the consequences of his actions, which we have barely begun to feel, may badly damage his presidency.

The debt and deficit Obama has helped create is simply unsustainable; even his OBM director has said as much. If it continues to go unchecked, other things will begin to happen. Even the Obama of Newsweek mythology — the Obama of Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, of Howard Fineman and Jon Meacham, of Fareed Zakaria and Jonathan Alter — cannot suspend the laws of economics. What may well lie in our economic future, thanks to the path Obama has chosen, is a significant rise in interest rates and inflation, or tax increases. In the Washington Post this morning we read, “The White House is caught in a battle within its own party over how to finance a comprehensive overhaul of America’s health-care system, as key Democrats advocate a tax plan that could require President Obama to break his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.” If some combination of these things comes to pass, Obama’s support will drop, perhaps substantially.

Right now Obama looks unstoppable to many, especially with the GOP at low ebb. Obama supporters are cocky, while some Obama critics are cranky. Democrats like James Carville are predicting multi-decade domination by their party.

We’ll see. We are still in the early months of the Age of Obama. He has laid a huge bet — and maybe wagered his presidency — on the proposition that his administration can spend like a fleet of drunken sailors and figure out how to pay for it later; or hope that if they can’t pay for it, the problems will evaporate. That strikes me as wishful thinking. Ominous fiscal clouds are amassing on the horizon; what is a sunny day in the morn can give way to thunderstorms late in the day.



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