The ink was barely dry on the Obama-McConnell tax deal and already Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer had proclaimed the president “the new comeback kid.” Many in the media quickly echoed this new meme. “Political Rebound? Obama sets up as new Comeback Kid” seconded USA Today. “Some now see Obama as the ‘comeback kid’” wrote the Christian Science Monitor. You get the gist.
Six weeks ago, in the wake of the Democrats’ midterm shellacking, many commentators put the Obama presidency on life support; he was weak, spineless, out of touch. Now they’re promoting the exact opposite narrative—Obama is strong, ruthless, willing to put the good of the country ahead of his whiny liberal base.
Time for a reality check: Obama’s presidency didn’t end after the midterm election and it hasn’t been revived during the lame duck session of Congress. Polls currently show a mixed bag of news for Obama. After dropping precipitously in 2009, his numbers have held steady for much of 2010. According to the latest Gallup poll, 46 percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing as president, while 45 percent disapprove. He’s facing a divided country and a weak field of prospective 2012 GOP challengers, with the possible exception of Mitt Romney, who’ll spend the next year trying to convince Tea Party activists how “Romneycare” is different from “Obamacare.” Good luck with that, Mitt.
Yet other numerical indicators don’t paint a rosy picture for the president. No president since FDR has run for re-election or been re-elected when the unemployment rate was over 8 percent. Nearly six in ten Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to the latest Marist poll. Obama’s approval ratings among liberal Democrats—his strongest and most reliable constituency—fell below 80 percent for the first time last week, after the tax deal was announced. He’s losing his base but failing to bring independents back into the fold. (I made these points last week on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell. Posting clip below.)