The polls this week are a disaster for Barack Obama. Scott Rasmussen has his approval dropping to 45 percent, after several weeks at 49 percent. John Zogby has it even lower — at 42 percent.
Beneath the superficial data lies even worse news for the president. Not only is he losing support, but he is losing his political base. Young people — under 30 — long a key element of his support, give him no better than break-even ratings with 41 percent approving and 41 percent disapproving of the job he is doing according to Zogby. And only 75 percent of Democrats, who have supported Obama strongly in the past, now approve of the job he is doing.
Zogby reports that this low approval by his fellow partisans represents a slide of more than 10 points over the summer. Even blacks are becoming tepid in their backing for Obama, with only 74 percent approving of the job he is doing (also a drop of more than 10 points). Hispanics, who voted for Obama by a margin of more than 40 points, now break even, 36-36, on their rating of his job in office.
Independents, the key swing group in our politics, now deliver a sharply negative 37-50 verdict on Obama's performance in office, and the elderly also give him negative ratings by 42-51.
Now that Obama, weakened with lower ratings, confronts his party in Congress, he has few good options.
He obviously cannot get 60 votes for his health care proposals in their current form. No Republican will support them, and it is unlikely that moderate Democrats will vote with him.
If he tries to pass the program with 50 votes using reconciliation procedures, he may also fail.
Most likely Democratic Sens. Byrd, W.V.; Conrad, N.D.; Lincoln, Ark.; Pryor, Ark.; Nelson, Neb; Bayh, Ind.; and Landrieu, La., and independent Sen. Lieberman (Ct) would oppose such a move and others — like Hagan, N.C., Feinstein, Calif., Johnson, S.D.; and Dorgan, N.D., might be right behind them. Stripped of moderate support, it is unlikely that Obama will be able to push through so radical a program with a bare 50 votes.
And if Obama waters down his proposals to attract Republican and moderate Democratic support, he will probably begin to lose votes on the left, endangering his prospects in the House and perhaps adding to his dilemma in the Senate.
Finally, the longer he takes to resolve this political problem, the more his ratings will continue to slip and his power to achieve any resolution will diminish. No president with support in the 30s will be able to push through a program like health care.
Historians will record that health care reform crippled the Obama presidency, as it did Bill Clinton's in 1993. Of course, Clinton was able to move to the center and secure re-election in 1996, but one wonders if a true believer like Obama would have such ideological flexibility. He has shown a willingness to move to the center on foreign policy, leaving troops in Iraq and adding them in Afghanistan. On the domestic front, only on education policy has he been willing to embrace centrist positions.
By the end of September, he'll wish he stayed in Martha's Vineyard!