The past couple of weeks haven’t been good for the president of the United States, not that most weeks these days have been all that rosy. At this stage of his White House occupancy, about the only thing he can hope to change (to borrow a word from his previous success) is the flat tire on his campaign limousine, and that won’t be easy.
Entering the fall season with less than 14 months left before the election, Barack Obama finds that Congress is as badly divided as ever. His aspiration for a detente between the warring parties that would produce passage of his proposals for solving the national debt and stimulating employment seem as out of reach as they were before the summer recess. In fact, he may now have to worry about how to keep the government from shutting down at the end of the month.
The Senate’s Democratic majority has gathered in its redoubt to oppose a House-passed bill that would keep the government from going broke until a year from now because the House measure requires that money to keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency solvent must be offset by cuts somewhere else. In the overall budgetary scheme, it doesn’t amount to that much money, but it’s the principle of the thing, or so Majority Leader Harry Reid says.
And things don’t look all that bright for progress from the bipartisan supercommittee designated to come up with an overall debt reduction plan by Thanksgiving. The six Republicans and six Democrats seem pretty much stuck in the same position they were in before going home to catch hell from their constituents, which they obviously did. There is still a slim hope, however, that they will come to their senses.
As for Obama, his week got under way with reports that his failure to turn around the economy has cost him big in campaign bucks with small donors, once a key cog in his fundraising machine, who have become disillusioned over their own welfare and particularly his dim prospects for improving the economy that seems headed for another recession. That’s unsurprising given the fact that huge numbers of them are out of jobs or are just barely holding on. These days $10 or $20 is a lot of dough.
At the same time, the polls are showing continuing dismal statistics for a presidential re-election. They are so bad that one of the key voices of moderation, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, told reporters the other day it could result in the election of a “default candidate, one who might qualify as an unlikely prospect under normal circumstances.” Daniels, who decided not to seek the Republican nomination despite urging from old-line GOP leaders and the belief of longtime political observers that he was a strong prospect, did not say who that candidate might be.
Key factors in the president’s election in 2008 were white independent voters. Surveys now show they are also not likely to repeat their support. In anticipation of this, the Obama campaign reportedly is focusing on a core of traditional backers that includes African-American, Hispanic and Jewish voters among other liberal groups. The president’s political aides are setting up an office in Chicago, the president’s hometown, to coordinate the effort.
But that may not be as easy as it might seem. African-Americans have been especially vocal in expressing disgruntlement over what they consider the president’s disengagement from the plight of blacks, whose unemployment numbers are much higher than those of whites. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been especially critical of the White House. While African-Americans and other normally Democratic groups would not be expected to vote against the president next year, the concern is they just might not come to the polls in numbers needed to offset the loss of white independents.
If one were to pick a word to describe the president’s prospects at this stage, it would be “bleak.” Can he turn it around? The economic difficulties may be just too deep-seated for an in-time recovery. “It may take a long time,” Daniels said.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard.