Summer of no love
By GLENN THRUSH | 8/4/10 4:32 AM EDT Updated: 8/4/10 3:03 PM EDT
On Monday, President Barack Obama recommitted to ending the combat mission in Iraq by the end of this month, a milestone that seemed nearly unattainable in 2008 — and seems nearly unnoticed in 2010.
Ending the war in Iraq was Obama’s central campaign promise two years ago, so the announcement should have been a huge deal. But by mid-Monday, the story drooped like a limp flag on news websites, sliding below obituaries of bandleader Mitch Miller.
That’s how it’s been going lately for Obama as he tries to thread the narrowest of political needles: Reminding voters of what he’s done right, with the vast majority of them angry about what’s going wrong.
Obama’s first-term accomplishments are piling up, capped by the health care overhaul and the recent passage of a sweeping financial reform bill. Yet, at the same time, his approval ratings have fallen to fresh lows, prompting one prominent ally of the president’s to quip, “Worst-case scenario? You’re looking at the best one-term president in the history of the United States” before quickly adding, “Kidding!”
The summer of 2009 belonged to the tea parties, but the Obama administration had good reason to hope it would have some summer fun this year. It was supposed to be one big pivot point: The economic arrows would all finally head upward, voters would recognize Obama’s historic legislative victories, and the withdrawal of most troops from Iraq would provide a dramatic exclamation point, energizing the party’s liberal base heading into the midterms.
Instead, it’s turned into Obama’s Summer of No Love, thanks to the persistently lousy economy, a succession of major crises and middling distractions — from the BP oil spill to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s insubordination, to the Shirley Sherrod fiasco — and the ascent of virulently anti-Obama cable-news critics like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
“I think we’re on a different kind of a news cycle than what I’ve been used to … And a lot of that commentary is very inflammatory,” said Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, a liberal Obama ally in the Senate.
“It appeals to the emotional distress that people may have. Now, we’ve had people like that in the past, don’t get me wrong. We had our Huey Longs and our Father Coughlins and our Joe McCarthys — there has always been somebody like that — but they never had a big pulpit. They never had a big audience. Now, the Glenn Becks have a big audience. And so they stir up these passions in people. And if you’re hurting, you’re out of work, sometimes they can appeal to people like that, that are anxious and worried about their future.”
But some fellow Democrats say that’s nonsense. Obama is responsible for his own troubles by pushing for a glittering legislative legacy in lieu of a laser focus on creating jobs. There has been grumbling and tension among his supporters in Congress — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was angered by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’s assessment that the Democrats could lose House seats this fall.