The Political Perils Of Being “The One”

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Last week I wrote a column called “Before We Carve Barack Obama’s Face on Mt. Rushmore.” It was about the rapturous honeymoon period that Barack Obama is experiencing at the moment. Well, judging by the latest numbers from this Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Americans seem to think their new President is going to be some sort of combination of Abe Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Teddy Roosevelt — except with more charisma and better judgment,

Overall, a majority of Americans are confident in Mr. Obama’s ability to govern and unify the country, with many who didn’t vote for him now seeing him in a positive light. The poll found that 73% of adults approve of the way he is handling the transition and his preparations for becoming president.

…So far, Americans are buoyed. Mr. Obama is viewed favorably by more Americans than ever, and three of four say they can relate to him as their president.

Similarly, three of four say he has struck the right balance over how involved he should be in making policy before taking office. Two-thirds say they are generally pleased with the people he has appointed.

…Much of the warmth toward Mr. Obama stems from frustration with the status quo, the poll suggests. Nearly half of those surveyed said 2008 will go down as one of the worst years in U.S. history — 20 percentage points higher than the poll has found in past years. And 90% of Americans say the economy has gotten worse in the past 12 months.

Only one in five Americans approves of the job the federal government is doing in handling the financial crisis, with 71% disapproving.

…Another warning sign: The poll shows skepticism about significant new government spending, something Mr. Obama is gearing up to do in hopes of stimulating the economy. Asked to choose among a list of economic-stimulus ideas, there was significant support for tax cuts for the middle class, but little for the infrastructure spending Mr. Obama has proposed.

Still, Mr. Obama is viewed favorably by two-thirds of the public, up from 56% in mid-October. The portion of Americans who see him in a negative light has fallen to 16%. Even 29% of McCain voters now see Mr. Obama positively, compared with 9% in October. Republicans, small-town voters and conservatives have all warmed up to the president-elect since Election Day.

Nearly four in 10 people say they view Mr. Obama more favorably than they did on Election Day.

These poll numbers paint a fascinating picture.

Americans appear to believe Obama is a uniquely talented, likable, & capable figure, apparently based on the fact that he gives nifty speeches — yet they’re opposed to more spending (which is at the core of his agenda) and don’t like the way that the federal government is handling the financial crisis, which is likely very similar to the way that Obama will handle it.

In other words, Obama, who’s a novice at governing, is going to be learning to skateboard on the edge of the Grand Canyon. The expectations are sky high, the challenges are immense, and there’s a lot of room to fall.

His only saving grace is the guy he’s following,

The survey also offers a final report card on Mr. Bush, who leaves office with near-record-low popularity. Just 18% say they are going to miss him when he is gone, half the number Mr. Clinton recorded on his way out of office. Asked to compare Mr. Bush with the past several presidents, half of those surveyed said he will go down as worse than most.

Asked what Mr. Bush’s greatest achievement was, a plurality, 35%, cited keeping America safe from further terrorist attacks and 25% said removing Saddam Hussein from power.

Anybody following Bush almost has to look good in comparison, but even there, Obama has challenges. If there’s a terrorist attack while he is in office or we lose the war in Iraq in Afghanistan, neither of which Obama seems to have much stomach for fighting, he will be harshly compared to Bush who, despite his many flaws, doggedly refused to give in when the going got tough.

For the sake of our country, I hope Obama is just as wonderful as everyone seems to believe that he is at the moment. If so, he’ll hold up fine in the White House. But if not, he — and the country — are going to have a really rough time of it for the next few years.

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