By MARSHA MERCER
Not content to say that Barack Obama is a bad president, Republican commentators and politicians declare him the worst in history.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., jumped to that conclusion back in June; Obama had been in office fewer than 17 months. Ben Quayle, a congressional candidate in Arizona and son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, made the claim unequivocally last month in a video. Partisan provocateurs charge early and often that Obama is the worst.
It’s hardly new for critics to cast a president with whom they disagree to the bottom of the presidential barrel, but the vitriol against Obama arrived particularly early. George W. Bush was well into his second term before Rolling Stone ran a cover story in April 2006 saying historians wondered if Bush would be remembered as the worst president in all of American history.
Today’s urge for the quick judgment and rhetorical overkill is puzzling. Obama won’t be on a ballot for more than two years, and signs indicate that he may not be the albatross to Democrats in November that Republicans hope.
Americans are angry and grim, but they are sharply split about the job the president is doing. Fifty percent of Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling his job, but 49 percent approve of his performance, according to an AP-Gfk poll earlier this month. Other polls show a similar split.
Congressional Republicans are even less popular than Democrats in Congress, with 68 percent of respondents disapproving of Republicans’ job performance and 60 percent of Democrats.
Perhaps more telling is the deep divide among those who say they’ll vote strategically in November. Twenty-six percent say they’ll use their vote to show opposition to Obama – but 26 percent also say they’ll vote to show their support of the president. Interestingly, 48 percent said Obama would not be a factor for them in November at all, according to the AP-Gfk poll.
Presidents don’t get “do overs” of their decisions, but Obama is hitting the reset button on his presidency.
The rap against Obama has been that he failed to focus tightly enough on jobs and the economy. A month ago, House Republican leader John Boehner suggested the president fire his economic team to show he got the public’s unhappiness. Three key players of Obama’s economic team are departing; apparently voluntarily. Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel also appears headed for the door. This gives Obama an opportunity before the midterm elections to retool his economic policies and his message.
Some Democratic candidates are keeping the president at arm’s length, but the White House will deploy the more popular Obama – first lady Michelle Obama’s approval ratings exceed her husband’s by 20 points – in six states next month. She is expected to raise some $20 million in campaign cash.
And, health-care reform is again in play. A majority of Americans say they want to repeal Obama’s signature program, and Republicans have pledged to do just that if they regain control of Congress. Several provisions that just went into effect, however, may change people’s attitudes.
Sixty-one percent of likely voters favored repeal of the new law, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, which was taken before new benefits under the Affordable Care Act rolled out Thursday. Most of the law’s provisions go into full effect in 2014, the law’s six-month anniversary brought several provisions aimed at improving care for families.
New rules allow young adults under 26 to stay on their parents’ health-insurance plans or require health insurance plans to offer free preventive care, including mammograms and colonoscopies.
Insurance companies are now prohibited from discriminating against children with preexisting conditions. Companies no longer can drop coverage if someone gets sick or unintentionally makes a mistake on his or her insurance application. New policies will not contain lifetime limits on key benefits. Consumers also will be able to appeal insurance decisions to an independent group.
The White House launched a major public relations campaign to let people know about the new rules. A new health reform Web page at whitehouse.gov features an interactive U.S. map with stories from each of the 50 states about how real people benefit. Obama talked up the new provisions at an event in Virginia that included remarks by grateful patients flown in from around the country.
Obama said he faults himself “for not being able to make the case more clearly to the country.”
Republican National Chairman Michael Steele framed the Republican response: “The president’s plan was unpopular when it passed in March and today the wholesale takeover of the American health system is undeniably radioactive.”
The debate is on: The people will decide what’s radioactive and what kind of president Barack Obama is.