Are congressional Democrats and President Obama looking better than congressional Republicans in the current debt standoff?

You bet they are.

And how are they doing in the larger battle of ideas?

They're getting clobbered.

A new Pew Poll released Tuesday shows that by a 50 percent to 35 percent margin, the public believes the Republicans are more extreme in their positions. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the margin expands to 60 percent to 27 percent. And while Obama's approval rating has declined to a mere 44 percent, the approval rating of Republican leaders has descended to an abysmal 25 percent.

That's it for the good news, if good it be. On the other side of the ledger, the continual stream of crap coming from both Republicans and, of late, Obama on the theme that cutting government spending will actually create jobs seems to be taking hold. As my Washington Post colleague and buddy E. J. Dionne noted yesterday, when Pew asked respondents in March how major spending cuts would affect the job situation, just 18 percent said they would help while 34 percent said they would hurt. In the poll released Tuesday, those numbers had substantially changed. Today, 26 percent said the cuts would help while just 27 percent said they would hurt. We've gone from a 2-to-1 plurality acknowledging that cuts would hurt to an even split on the question. These numbers, and the widening confusion they reflect, will come back to haunt the Democrats if and when they next propose a jobs program to help the economy get moving again.

The Obama administration's abysmal record on jobs has already taken its toll. On the question of which party can do a better job improving the job situation -- still the public's No. 1 concern -- the new Pew poll shows the two parties tied at 39 percent apiece. Those are numbers that shouldn't inspire any Democratic confidence going into next year's election. The way things are shaping up now, the most plausible Democratic appeal will be: Vote Obama -- he may be ineffectual, but the other guys are nuts.

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