Only two weeks ago, President Barack Obama looked like a man on the rise. He and his party had successfully stared down Republicans in a 16-day government shutdown. Voters were angrier at the GOP than any time since, well, the last government shutdown. A confident-looking Obama declared it was time to get the country back on track with quick action on a budget agreement, immigration reform and a bipartisan farm bill.
“One of the things that I hope all of us have learned these past few weeks is that it turns out smart, effective government is important,” he said.
How long ago that moment seems now.
Since then, almost nothing has gone right for the president. The messy rollout of his biggest achievement, the Affordable Care Act, has careened from a simple case of website glitches to a nightmare of consumer complaints. Some of the country’s closest allies have expressed outrage at reports that the NSA was tapping the cellphones of their leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And last week, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll reported that Obama’s approval rating had sunk to 42 percent, an all-time low for him in that survey.
But the president wasn’t alone in losing ground. That same poll found that the Republican Party has also hit an all-time low, with only 22 percent of voters saying they had a positive opinion of the GOP. Most dramatically, 63 percent of voters said they wanted to fire their current member of Congress, while only 29 percent said their representative deserved reelection.
We’ve finally found an issue on which almost all Americans, right and left, agree: We hate having a federal government that creates problems instead of solving them.
In Washington, of course, the big question is what effect the public’s sour mood will have on next year’s congressional election, in which Republicans hope to take over the Senate and Democrats hope to take over the House of Representatives.
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg surveyed 80 “battleground districts” that could change hands and found that Republicans look more vulnerable than before. In some Republican districts, he told me, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is now even more unpopular than former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
So far, Obama’s second term hasn’t given his supporters much cause for optimism. Like Bush, Obama came out of re-election declaring that voters had given him a mandate, only to discover that voters’ patience with a president can wear thin astonishingly fast. Whether he regains public confidence now depends largely on making his healthcare program work – its insurance plans, not just its website. For the president, it comes down to one thing: Obamacare.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanuslatimes.com.