Reality Check

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.13.38 PM

The Gallup daily tracking poll shows a sudden shift in appraisals of the president. On June 8, after a spring in which the gap between approval and disapproval was narrowing slowly, the public was evenly split – 47 – 46. Two weeks later, it’s 55 – 40. That’s one of the more sudden shifts yet in his two terms of office. It puts him close to GWB at this point in his second term:

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.16.41 PM

The light green line is Obama’s approval ratings; the darker one Bush’s. They look remarkably similar, apart from Bush’s much higher support from Democrats for a long time. That dotted line is the average of all presidents across the years since Truman. On that score, Obama is doing slightly better now than he was for much of his first term, ironically enough. The closest analogy to either of them is Truman’s approval rating (he finished out his presidency at 32 percent), which might give one some hope for a future historical assessment.

Why has this shift occurred so suddenly?

Multi-determined, as my shrink would say. But it has to be Iraq most of all. You can see a fledgling Obama recovery to an even 47-46 split until the Sunni/ISIS insurgency took off. And I think that’s understandable. One of Obama’s great and singular achievements was the withdrawal from Iraq without catastrophe. If that is now in doubt, especially if there is any chance of our getting involved again, then a core step forward looks in hindsight like a chimera. And Iraq is such a nightmare in American minds that any notion that we might be headed back there is abhorrent. Who do you blame for such a situation? The president, of course. What can he do about it? Between a metastasizing, regional sectarian war and US military intervention, it’s a pretty nasty dilemma. But my advice, such as it is, remains: stay out. Let it burn out; let’s see what emerges from the chaos; let’s concentrate on protecting our borders and improving our intelligence. If Obama could muster that message, I think it could resonate. As long as he wrings his hands, and the punditaraiat screams daily about What Must Be Done, and the State Department insists on more and more involvement, he will suffer.