Tonight we watched Obama address the cadets of West Point and, over their shoulder, the American people. I kept asking myself: if I were in the audience did I hear anything worth risking my life for?
There is a lot in Afghanistan worth risking one’s life for, but Obama sure didn’t summon it.
Watching President Obama address the nation, the right probably recognized the incongruity of sending additional troops on a difficult mission and setting, at the same time, a very short timetable for their withdrawal. The right doubtless wondered why the Taliban won’t just wait Obama out and move in after he leaves.
But the political cost of this speech will not come on the right. Obama will get the support of everyone who won’t ever vote for him. But it is with his base on the left that he will be in trouble.
His volunteers, his backers, his donors have to have watched that speech and asked themselves “why did we win the election?” Obama sounded just like Bush. More articulate, perhaps, but substantively precisely the same.
His decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, an odd move for a peace candidate, his failure to close Guantanamo, our continued military presence in Iraq, and his failure to act on liberal priorities like gays in the military and immigration reform, are all sapping his support from those who voted for him.
For those with memories of Vietnam, the task of backing a corrupt regime summons the most unpleasant of comparisons.
Obama looked out of place giving a speech he didn’t believe in. He seemed like he was reading a communiquÃ©. His focus on pulling out, even as he was going in, reminded one of Bill Clinton defining what the meaning of ‘is’ is.
This speech will inflame the left and that is the real threat to Obama’s base.
Even in the health care debate, the under 30 voters are learning that they are targeted — just like the elderly — for special punishment in Obama’s health care bill. When they realize that they must spend $15,000 on average per family for health insurance or face a fine of 2.5% of their income or go to prison, the bill loses its appeal. And, when they find out how shallow the subsidies are (only after they spend 8% of their paychecks if their household income is $45,000 a year and 12% if it is $65,000), they begin to turn off both the bill and the president for whom they were once so enthusiastic.
Then he is losing popularity on issues that have nothing to do with ideology. It all begins with unemployment. While voters still believe by 50-42 (Rasmussen) that Bush is more at fault than Obama for the economy, Bush is not on the ballot. The high jobless rate nurtures a belief that Obama doesn’t really know what he is doing. This discontent need not take the form of ideological opposition to the stimulus package or the deficit spending. It can merely be a sense that things aren’t going right.
And then come the adjectives. Voters are increasingly complaining that Obama is weak, vacillates, does not keep his promises, spends too much time on other priorities than jobs, and seems egotistical.
All polls have Obama below 50 and some, like Harris, have him all the way down to 43% in job approval. These surveys mean that Obama, who won 52% of the vote, is now losing between one in ten and one in five of his voters.
This erosion of support makes the elections of 2010 look more and more like a rerun of 1994. It is now reasonable to predict — and I do — that the GOP will take both houses of Congress.
In the Senate, the Republicans are likely to hold all their vacant seats with the possible exception of New Hampshire. Incumbent Democrats Dodd (Ct), Specter (Pa), Lincoln (Ark), Reid (Nev), and Bennett (Col) are the low hanging fruit. Among the open seats, Delaware seems ripe for the Republicans. Add to these six seats, two more if Rudy Giuliani challenges Kristin Gillibrand in New York and if North Dakota governor Hoeven takes on Dorgan. Mark Kirk could the ninth pickup in Illinois. And, in a Republican sweep, you have to respect GOP chances in California and New Jersey.
A deluge swamps all boats.
On Capitol Hill, the Democrats seem to have almost abandoned the message war on health care. They are hunkering down and focused on keeping their troops in line. The appeals to party discipline are so strong that one senses that they are prepared to march, in lock-step, over the cliff together.
When one considers where Obama was only a year ago and where he is today, the fall is simply stunning. That he clings to the staff that helped him take it is amazing. This has to be the least successful White House since, well, Clinton’s 1993-94 crowd. In fact, its many of the same people!