Obama's Apogee in His Rearview Mirror

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, July 12, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Obama's Apogee in His Rearview Mirror


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

After two wave elections, Democrats at risk.

For reasons related to normal rhythms of American politics and to Barack Obama's abnormal lurch to the left, his presidency probably has passed its apogee.

If Obama has a second term, it probably will be, as most are, more difficult than the first, during which his party's brand has been badly damaged in just 17 months. The 22nd Amendment renders reelected presidents instant lame ducks. Public boredom is induced by the incontinent talkativeness of those who occupy the modern rhetorical presidency. And power seeps from reelected presidents as attention turns to selecting their successors.

The remainder of Obama's first term will be complicated by this November's elections. Turnout in this nonpresidential year will be significantly smaller than in 2008. The largest declines will be among young and minority voters who were energized by Obama being on the ballot. So this year's turnout will be older, whiter--and more conservative.

Many conservatives were too dispirited to vote in 2008. Not now. Gallup reports a four-poll average of 59 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying that this year they are unusually enthusiastic about voting, the highest number Gallup has recorded for a midterm election since the earthquake year of 1994, when Republicans gained 54 House seats. In Gallup's June poll, 53 percent of Republicans said they were unusually enthusiastic, 39 percent said they were less; 35 percent of Democrats said they were unusually enthusiastic, 56 percent said they were less. The Republicans' net of plus 14 more enthusiastic compared with the Democrats' negative 21 is the largest party advantage Gallup has ever recorded for a midterm election.

This 111th Congress may leave Washington in December after a post-election lame-duck session in which defeated legislators with nothing to lose might vote for measures the unpopularity of which is, to progressives, evidence of how progressive the measures are. How many dead legislators walking might there be in December? Political analyst Charles Cook notes that in July 1994, four months before the Republican House landslide, Congress's job approval was 53 percent. In October 2006, percent of Americans approved of the job Congress was doing--and a month later Republicans lost control of both chambers. In recent polls, approval of Congress has ranged from 19 to 26 percent.

Americans usually exempt their particular representative from their normal disparagement of Congress.

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