White House

Why We Lied to Obama

We told him he could be popular. What we meant to say was he could be popular … if he told the truth.

Outgoing Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Gary Gensler (L) watches as US President Barack Obama (C) nominates Timothy Massad (R) as chairman of the CFTC at the White House in Washington, DC, November 12, 2013.
National Journal
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Ron Fournier
Nov. 13, 2013, 6:22 a.m.

Amer­ic­ans told Pres­id­ent Obama in 2012, “If you like your pop­ular­ity, you can keep it.”

We lied.

Well, at least we didn’t tell him the whole truth. What we meant to say was that Obama could keep the sup­port of a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans un­less he broke our trust. Throughout his first term, even as his job-ap­prov­al rat­ing cycled up and down, one thing re­mained con­stant: Polls showed that most Amer­ic­ans trus­ted Obama.

As they say in Wash­ing­ton, that is no longer op­er­able.

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll shows for the first time that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans (52 per­cent) don’t think the pres­id­ent is hon­est and trust­worthy. His pre­vi­ous low­est mark came on May 30, when 47 per­cent said he couldn’t be trus­ted. In a re­lated find­ing, only 39 per­cent of the pub­lic ap­proves of Obama’s job per­form­ance.

This fol­lows re­cent polls by Gal­lup and NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al show­ing Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ings at the low­est levels of his pres­id­ency. Obama’s second term is on the same down­ward tra­ject­ory as Pres­id­ent George W. Bush’s. Obama’s pre­de­cessor lost cred­ib­il­ity with the pub­lic after his claims about weapons of mass de­struc­tion in Ir­aq were proven false, and after his rosy as­ser­tions about the gov­ern­ment’s per­form­ance dur­ing Hur­ricane Kat­rina de­fied lo­gic.

Like his pre­de­cessor, Obama seems to be tak­ing his cred­ib­il­ity for gran­ted. The Benghazi at­tack, the seizure of tele­phone re­cords from the As­so­ci­ated Press, the IRS’s in­vest­ig­a­tions of polit­ic­al groups, the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s massive do­mest­ic-spy­ing op­er­a­tion, the “red line” in Syr­ia, and now Obama­care — the White House re­spon­ded to every con­tro­versy or quasi-scan­dal with chan­ging ex­plan­a­tions, dis­tor­tion, or out­right de­cep­tion.

Pre­dict­ably, the pub­lic is start­ing to doubt the word of the pres­id­ent and his team — even as ma­jor­it­ies still ap­prove of many of his policies. Obama is dan­ger­ously close to fol­low­ing Bush in­to one of the darkest corners of the Amer­ic­an pres­id­ency, when the pub­lic stops listen­ing to its chief ex­ec­ut­ive.

As my col­league Alex Roarty wrote Tues­day, pres­id­ents whose ap­prov­al plum­mets in their second term don’t re­cov­er. “In fact, no pres­id­ent in the last 60 years has watched his ap­prov­al rat­ings bounce back dur­ing their second term,” Roarty found. “Either they didn’t make it to an­oth­er stint in of­fice (Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush), nev­er dipped in the first place (Eis­en­hower and Clin­ton), or were re­moved from of­fice at the nadir of their pop­ular­ity (Nix­on).”

Obama and his ad­visers are abund­antly con­fid­ent of their abil­it­ies. He apo­lo­gized. He prom­ised to fix the Obama­care web­site. The be­ne­fits of his sig­na­ture law will soon be clear, Obama says. Maybe he’ll de­liv­er a big speech (a fa­vor­ite tac­tic) or give lip ser­vice to what he con­siders to be clichés of lead­er­ship: schmooz­ing rivals, threat­en­ing friends, and im­pos­ing his will on the bur­eau­cracy he heads.

But chances are he nev­er re­cov­ers Amer­ic­ans’ trust and there­fore their ap­prov­al. Why? Be­cause of the pre­ced­ents Roarty wrote about; be­cause his­tory doesn’t lie.


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