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Americans Are Looking for Results

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have two articles in today’s papers that tell essentially the same story. The headline from the Times is “Poll Finds Unease With Obama on Key Issues.” It’s followed by this:

A substantial majority of Americans say President Obama has not developed a strategy to deal with the budget deficit, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, which also found that support for his plans to overhaul health care, rescue the auto industry and close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, falls well below his job approval ratings.

The poll found a distinct gulf between Mr. Obama’s overall standing and how some of his key initiatives are viewed, with fewer than half of Americans saying they approve of how he has handled health care and the effort to save General Motors and Chrysler. A majority of people said his policies have had either no effect yet on improving the economy or had made it worse, underscoring how his political strength still rests on faith in his leadership rather than concrete results.

The headline in the Journal, “Public Wary of Deficit, Economic Intervention,” is followed by this:

After a fairly smooth opening, President Barack Obama faces new concerns among the American public about the budget deficit and government intervention in the economy as he works to enact ambitious health and energy legislation, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

These rising doubts threaten to overshadow the president’s personal popularity and his agenda, in what may be a new phase of the Obama presidency.

“The public is really moving from evaluating him as a charismatic and charming leader to his specific handling of the challenges facing the country,” says Peter D. Hart, a Democratic pollster who conducts the survey with Republican Bill McInturff. Going forward, he says, Mr. Obama and his allies “are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters.”

This reinforces what I wrote earlier in the week. The waters are, as Hart says, getting pretty choppy. And what ought to alarm Team Obama is that the winds are almost surely going to get worse, and maybe far worse, rather than better. Right now the deficit and debt, while monstrous, are fairly abstract concerns to most voters. What will rock the Obama boat most of all, I think, is when the real-world effects of these things – in the form of higher interest rates, higher inflation, a sputtering economy and, soon, large tax increases – are felt in everyday lives. Then words like “unease” and “wary” will give way to words like “deep concern” and “angry.” Obama’s personal popularity, while still impressive, will not escape unscathed; and neither will his party.

Barack Obama, who to be fair came to office confronting huge fiscal challenges, decided to exacerbate them rather than ameliorate them. He decided to use the financial crisis to push through a 30-year-old liberal wish list, from the so-called stimulus package, to the omnibus spending bill, to the budget, to (they hope) nationalizing health care. He is committed to a course of action, and there is no turning back at this point. I suspect it’s a decision Mr. Obama will come to rue.


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