Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Obama’s War

The lede in the story accompanying this (pdf) ABC News-Washington Post poll is that “confidence in the U.S. system of government has dropped to a new low in more than 35 years . . .” That doesn’t sound like good news for Democrats in 2012 inasmuch as they belong to the party of government. But I doubt that the answers to abstract polling questions are very good predictors of election outcomes.

If I were part of Obama’s political team, however, this result would be keeping me up at night:
“[J]ust 31 percent now say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, a new low. Sixty-four percent call it not worth fighting, and 49 percent feel that way “strongly,” both record highs in ABC/Post polls. Two-to-one opposition for the first time puts public criticism of the war in Afghanistan at the level seen for the war in Iraq. Such views had a devastating impact on George W. Bush, the least popular second-term president in polls since the Truman presidency. And there’s danger ahead; fighting in Afghanistan, now in its winter lull, is expected to intensify come summer.”
The public has a penchant for punishing candidates who persuade themselves that they’ve earned a democratic mandate for disruptive domestic reform. It humbled George Bush for keeping his campaign promises about private Social Security accounts, and Obama for keeping his campaign promises about health care reform. Judging from recent polls, something similar is happening to Republican governors trying make good on their promises to get state budgets under control by taking on the public employee unions. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s approval numbers, for example, are looking a lot like Scott Walker’s in Wisconsin.

Public opinion respecting wars seems to be less fickle: their popularity dissipates steadily the longer they last and the decline seems to be irreversible. John McCain's early advocacy of the spectacularly successful Iraq troop surge was a formidable debating point in the argument about who'd make a better commander-in-chief in 2008, but it didn't win him many votes.  Obama took personal possession of the Afghanistan war when he escalated it in late 2009.  It’s unlikely that even spectacular battlefield successes over the next year are going to do him much good in 2012.  If Obama ends up being a one-term president, I'll bet that Afghanistan will be the principal issue doing him in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe you're right. But, there are now so so many things that Obama has going against him -- of his own doing -- that could be the reason(s) he turns out to be a one-term president.

His lack of leadership is breathtaking in the face of crises all over the globe and at home. Apparently as Japan faced a crisis of biblical proportions last Saturday, while Ghadafi was gaining ground against the rebels, with the US government getting ready to stop because of a budget impasse, Obama aired a previously recorded radio address on women's equality and played golf.