Is Barack Obama Destined To Go The Way of Jimmy Carter?

Boldly, perhaps foolishly, I can only conclude – in a word, yes.

The honeymoon is officially over.  According to Scott Rasmussen, those strongly approving of President Obama’s performance have fallen from a peak of 45% on January 23, 2009 to 29% as of today – and those who strongly disapprove have risen from a floor of 14% on January 22, 2009 to a peak of 38% on July 9, 2009 and rests at 35% today.  The president’s approval index (% strongly approving less % strongly disapproving) has tumbled from a peak of +30 to a recurring range of -6 to -8 over the last two weeks. 

Admittedly, there is a degree of statistical irrelevance to these numbers, where President Obama’s initial approval and disapproval polling numbers, like other presidents, are artificially affected by the euphoria and goodwill which occasions a presidential inauguration.  But, isn’t that the essence of a honeymoon?

Whether presidential administrations or marriage, the afterglow of inaugurations and weddings often give equally optimistic outlooks for a second presidential term and whether John and Jane will live happily ever after.  How long that proverbial honeymoon lasts, however, is usually a far better indicator of long-term, or second-term, success.  In that regard, as the Rasmussen numbers suggest, President Obama’s post-inaugural joyride came to a screeching halt about 6 weeks after the confetti was swept from the floors of the many inaugural balls.

What precipitated the fall?  Despite White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s claims that the Obama stimulus bill saved the economy, it is apparent that the American people weren’t and aren’t convinced.  Within three weeks of President Obama’s signing the $787 billion boondoggle on February 17, according to Rasmussen, the percentage of Americans who strongly disapproved of his performance rose from 23% to 31%, and total disapproval ratings rose from 37% to 43%.  And, it’s only gotten worse since – as of today, Rasmussen tells us that the number of Americans disapproving of the president’s performance has risen to 47%.

Think about that – six months into his term as president and President Obama has nearly 1 of every 2 Americans disapproving of his performance.  By comparison, in July, 2001, six months into President Bush’s first term, Gallup recorded that 33% – 35% disapproved of Bush’s performance.

We all know that President Bush’s poll numbers resembled a rollercoaster ride at an amusement park throughout his two terms, eventually settling on a downward path which ended at about a 62% disapproval rating in January, 2009.  However, therein lies the demon for those predicting a second term for Obama. 

Undoubtedly, there has been no greater assault upon a sitting president by the national media and political party apparatus than that leveled at President Bush – yet, six months into his term – historically, when many presidents are still basking in the glow of champagne bubbles glistening through inaugural crystal, President Obama’s disapproval rating lies only 15 percentage points less than the much-maligned George Bush, with a minefield of potential disasters ahead.

What are these potholes which await President Obama?  While there are many problems which could cause the president difficulty, there is reason to believe the following five issues will create big problems for Obama in the next six months.

  • Borrowing from Ford’s “Quality is Job 1” – the economy remains job one for this president.  If unemployment rates remain hovering above 9%, without appreciable improvement in certain specific sectors of America’s manufacturing base, Administration economic advisers better start dusting off their resumes.  With elevated unemployment, the Administration will not be able to demonstrate the increased tax revenue which its abhorrent spending was ultimately designed to produce.  In the absence of such revenue and as the spending bills come due, the Administration will be forced to ease monetary policy (a second overt stimulus plan will not be approved), thereby flooding our economy with increasingly worthless money.  The result – inflation.  Sound familiar?
  • Iran . . . Iran . . . Iran.  Ahmadinejad – the man spotted in grainy film from 1979 escorting American hostages through Tehran – remains a thorn in the American side amidst a continuing Iranian revolution.  Whether American hostages or nuclear missiles aimed at our ally, Israel, American foreign policy is being dictated to some measure from the bloodstained streets of Tehran.  Sound familiar?
  • The American “malaise” of 1980 finds its symbiotic partner in the Obama apology tour of 2009.  If the president continues to denigrate America in the eyes of the world, treading the path of retreat – as in sending our Secretary of State most recently to convey regret for America’s role in climate change in a country which has repeatedly thumbed its proverbial nose at international efforts to curb CO2 emissions – he shouldn’t be surprised if a silent electoral majority surfaces seeking to reinforce American confidence, pride and status as leader of the free world.  Sound familiar?
  • The energy crisis of 1979, which forced rationing of gasoline from Honolulu to Portland, Maine and from Anchorage to Miami and other consumer energy prices to jump sky high, might soon be outdone by an energy policy designed to eliminate clean coal production and force American industry to redesign itself under the auspice of a green economy, passing the invariable costs onto American consumers – the same American consumers who are struggling through recession.  President Obama should not be surprised if Americans reject this path, urging instead a sensible path to increase nuclear energy and domestic oil production.  Sound familiar?
  • The difficulties of the late 1970s created an unease even among Democrats – America wasn’t headed in the right direction.  It is not often that a sitting president is faced with the prospect of a primary challenge at the end of a first term.  Presidents, however, ignore, disregard or disrespect such prospective challengers at their peril.  If the president does not actively involve such challengers within their foreign policy and/or domestic agenda, he or she runs the risk of a legitimate outsider coming forward to critique the Administration and advance his or her own political prospects.  Unless President Obama starts to effectively use Secretary of State Clinton as the voice of American foreign policy, he should expect that she and her supporters will renew evaluation of her political prospects to be the Democratic nominee in 2012.  Such evaluation will be expedited if it quickly becomes apparent that the cost of leaving the Administration is outweighed by the benefit of status as an outsider looking in on a presidency floundering in its efforts to pull America out of its economic doldrums.  But more than all of this, the bottom line – the Clintons are one family who likes the presidency.  Sound familiar?

How President Obama handles these issues in the next six to nine months will dictate whether a second term is likely.  Based on what we have seen so far, however, and given the American electorate’s apparent growing displeasure with his leadership, there is no reason to believe that he has learned the lessons necessary to avoid the fate of Jimmy Carter.  As Edmund Burke once stated, “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  And destined to repeat it, he will.  Barack Obama is on history’s path to a one term presidency.