For all the focus on head-to-head matchups between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the important number, right now, is the president’s job approval. According to the latest poll from NBC News and TheWall Street Journal, 49 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s performance, while 46 percent disapprove. Overall, according to the Real Clear Politics average, Obama holds an approval rating of 47.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 47.1 percent. There’s room for growth, but not much.
I’ve spoken before about the constant torrent of dishonesty from the Romney campaign. From the small issues (tax returns) to the big ones (Obama’s “apology tour”), Romney and his team have routinely lied to make a point or build a case. When it comes to the economy, for example, the Romney team takes every job lost in 2009, regardless of whether Obama’s policies were in effect or not, and attributes it to the president. It’s a distorted number—he claims two million lost jobs—designed to mislead voters with a false picture of the economy.
I’ve grown so used to dismissing Tom Friedman’s work for TheNew York Times that when he writes something genuinely good, it comes as a surprise. To wit, in his column for the Sunday paper, he aruges that our political system has devolved into a “vetocracy”—a system where “no one can aggregate enough power to make any important decisions at all.”
The culprits, according to Friedman, are polarization, broken institutional norms—in particular, filibuster abuse—the massive proliferation of special interests, and the growing importance of money in politics. The ultimate outcome of this, says Friedman, is governmental paralysis:
Like almost every Democrat with claims to being a moderate, outgoing Virginia Senator Jim Webb doesn’t seem to understand that partisan politics are zero-sum:
What happened in the end, Webb said, “was five different congressional committees voted out their version of health-care reform, and so you had 7,000 pages of contradictory information. Everybody got confused. … From that point forward, Obama’s had a difficult time selling himself as a decisive leader.”
For all the focus on President Obama’s narrow lead over Mitt Romney in the latest poll from Quinnipiac University, the more interesting numbers are in the full results, where you can find a better account of how voters perceive the two men. Independents, for example, are neither thrilled nor satisfied with the president. His favorability rating is 19 points underwater at 37/56, while his job-approval numbers are 17 points in the negative at 39/56. Overall, 47 percent of voters approve of Obama’s performance, while 48 percent disapprove.
Since his first run for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney has never tried to lead the Republican Party in any particular direction. This isn’t hard to understand; as an outsider to the conservative movement, it’s simply too difficult. Instead, to win conservative trust, he acts as a cipher for GOP priorities—they lead, and he follows. Congressional Republicans understand this, and, as TheNew York Timesreports, intend to use it to their advantage:
For years, liberals have argued that polarization his little to do with the Democratic Party—which they see as largely centrist—and everything to do with a Republican Party, which has moved far to the right since the 1970s. Recent research from political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have measured polarization and ideological shifts in Congress, confirms that theory. According to NPR, they’ve found that the GOP is more conservative now than it’s been in a century:
After today’s speech to the National Rifle Association, there should be no speculation about Mitt Romney’s ideological positioning in the general election. More than running as a conservative, Romney has positioned himself as an absolutely stalwart defender of conservative values, and his rhetoric leaves room for an abrupt move to the center. As John Whitehouse joked on Twitter, the former Massachusetts governor “appears to be running for the Continental Congress.”
The latest ad from the Obama campaign is a web video, so it won’t receive much traction among the population at large, but it does provide an interesting glimpse into how the campaign will attack Mitt Romney:
It seems that Mitt Romney is following the Karl Rove template for presidential campaigns; taking your perceived weaknesses and using them to attack your opponent. The former Massachusetts governor has been criticized as an elitist reactionary who will say anything to get elected. And so, in the last two weeks, he has attacked President Obama as an out-of-touch hypocrite, who would rather scare voters than own up to his record.
At TheWashington Post, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake write a bit more about the planned advertising blitz by Republican Super PAC American Crossroads:
The Crossroads ads, which began airing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia and attack the incumbent for his handling of gas prices, are the first of what is expected to be an extended air assault on Obama by the conservative group.
As far as challengers to a party establishment are concerned, Rick Santorum was unique. Unlike Ronald Reagan, Santorum didn’t lead an ideological faction. Unlike Gary Hart, he wasn’t the young and dynamic future of his party. He didn’t lead a marginalized wing of the party coalition, like Jesse Jackson did, and he wasn’t a media favorite, like John McCain was.
Later this afternoon, in Florida, President Obama will make his push for the Buffet rule, a policy which would ensure a minimum 30 percent tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million per year. There’s no chance that it will pass either chamber of Congress, but that’s not the point; the proposal is meant to place Democrats on the side of tax fairness and present the GOP as tied to the interests of the wealthy Americans. The Republican response is that this is an attempt to draw attention away from the economy and its sluggish performance over the last three years.
This past weekend, evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren spent a portion of his Easter on the Sunday shows, where he patiently explained to ABC News' Jake Tapper that the Gospels require him to oppose both a social safety net and higher marginal tax rates on the rich:
There’s one last nugget from the ABC News/Washington Post poll that I wanted to mention. In the poll, they ask voters for their thoughts on the “biggest problem facing the country,” and offer a choice—“unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy, or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity.” By a large margin, 52 to 37, voters said that unfairness was the biggest problem facing the country. I’m not a believer in the power of the bully pulpit, but this seems to lend credence to the view that—after more than six months of populist rhetoric and attacks on “you’re on your own” economics—Obama has pulled both the public and the economic narrative in his direction.