Byline: Jon Meacham
Here is a wild proposition, one that many who obsessively follow politics did not expect to entertain before Mem-orial Day. What if Barack Obama is not a tone-deaf big spender who misread the public on large-scale government reform such as health care, but is, instead, what he has always been: a smart, steady, and unobtrusively savvy politician whose long-term bets (his first being winning the presidency itself) are well--considered? Only a few months ago it was, as Republican House leader John Boehner put it, Armageddon on the Potomac, and Obama and the Democrats were to be the chief victims of the furies. I am mixing Christian and pagan imagery, but you get the point.
Gallup's daily tracking numbers put the president's job--approval rating at 52apercent, which ranks him ahead of both Reagan and Clinton at similar points in their first terms. The generic congressional ballot is now even, with 46apercent saying they will vote for a Democrat and 46 a Republican. Incumbents are falling from power in states ranging from Utah to West Virginia, but the common denominator is their incumbency, not their party. Despite worries about the Greek crisis and the wildly fluctuating Dow Jones industrial average, Gallup finds that "economic confidence remains at its best level of the year in early May, matching April. Americans' expectations about the economy going forward also remain at their highest since the recession began, with 41apercent of Americans saying U.S. economic conditions are getting better."
How much of the good, or at least better, economic news is directly attributable to the administration is, as ever, uncertain. But we do know this: if Americans were feeling worse about things, Obama would be paying the political price. And so he benefits from the bounce--and he knows that he will suffer from a fall.
The president's stoic acceptance of the cycles of politics is less appreciated than it might be. I think this is because his once frequent talk of changing Washington helped create the impression that Obama was a goo-goo, a dreamer, when he is in fact more of a realist than a radical.
The young president we meet in the pages of my colleague Jonathan Alter's wonderful new book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, is a man of both ideas and action, …