It’s a dark time for President Obama. His approval ratings are sliding as confidence wanes in his competence and the government’s ability to do anything right. His allies squirm, his critics circle and lick their chops in anticipation of a kill. National newspapers wonder if this is “Obama’s Katrina,” even as George W. Bush gets better marks from the public than his successor. The president’s entire agenda seems in peril, thanks to his administration’s inability to tackle a thorny technical problem. “It’s a lot like Custer,” a former Democratic senator remarks. “He underestimated the number of Indians on the other side of the hill and paid the ultimate price.”
I’m talking, of course, of the 2010 BP oil spill. Or perhaps Hurricane Sandy. Or maybe the IRS controversy — disasters that seemed sure to doom the Obama administration, until they suddenly didn’t. And while the HealthCare.Gov fiasco is worse and more dangerous politically for the White House than probably any other controversy — this was an unforced error on his signature legislative agenda item, not a disaster to be cleaned up — it’s worth remembering in the cyclone of a news cycle that it’s easy to lose perspective and assume the current dynamic was and always will be.
Obama looks doomed today, but remember that just a few weeks ago, it was Republicans whose obituaries were being written all over cable news and newspaper op-ed pages thanks to the party’s brinkmanship on the government shutdown. A few weeks before that, it was Obama, again, whose legacy was on the line thanks to his botched handling of Syria. Many wondered if the shutdown could cost the GOP control of the House in 2014. Now, just a month later, those losses are gone and its Democrats who apparently risk losing control of the Senate.
The question on every body’s mind is: Can Obama recover?
It’s the same question that was put to Larry King’s panel in May of 2008 after Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s explosive sermons surfaced (Obama did recover from that). And again in August 2009 when the Los Angeles Times asked, “Can Obama recover on health care?” as reform stymied in Congress (he did, and so did health care reform). And again after Obama criticized the arrest of Henry Lewis Gates, when the AP asked, “Can Obama recover after Gates incident?” (He did.)
It was asked again in January 2010 by editorial boards from Orlando to Buffalo after Republican Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts (he did, and so did Obamacare). And again January 2011 after Democrats got shellacked in the 2010 midterm. When Sean Hannity asked his panel in August, 2011, “Can Obama recover?” from a sinking Dow and other bad economic news, Fox News analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. replied, “No, but we need America to recover.” Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America added, “I don’t think so. I think he’s done.”
And then it was asked again in June of 2012, after the president had a “horrible, no-good’ week.” And then in October again after Obama’s poor performance in his first debate against Mitt Romney. And then again in September of this year after the president faced strong congressional opposition to his planned intervention in Syria.
We could play this game with the GOP too. After the 2008 election, pundits wondered if the GOP could ever bounce back. And anyone who wondered how the GOP was possibly going to get out of the mess it created with the shutdown in October overestimated Obama’s ability to hold onto a lead.
As Ross Douthat has noted, Obamacare has been buried three times. First, there was Scott Brown’s win, when it “seemed finished, doomed, doornail-dead.” Then there was the Supreme Court challenge, when a “train wreck” of oral arguments led the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin and many others to declare that the law “looks like it’s going to be struck down.” That was the pervasive belief until the court upheld the law four months later (though CNN and Fox initially — and erroneously — announced that the Court had killed the individual mandate). And then the third burial would be today, when some say the law won’t live to see Election Day 2014 (it will).
“If you’re feeling some déjÃ vu, there’s a reason,” Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth political scientist and media critic wrote in his column in the Columbia Journalism Review last week. “Journalists are falling victim to the same extrapolation fallacy that pervades so much political coverage. In these sorts of stories, reporters identify a current trend and spin out a story in which it continues to implausible extremes.”
But in reality, of course, any shifts in public opinion around specific events are transitory and limited. Obama recovered from his disastrous Denver debate and went on to win the 2012 election; the GOP recovered from its loss in 2008 and went on to win a historic victory in 2010.
Without doubt, HealthCare.Gov‘s dangers to Obama, Democrats, and the entire liberal agenda are real. But just as real a possibility is that the website gets fixed sooner or later, builds confidence and users, and we all move on to something else by New Year’s Day.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."