As President Obama arrives at the one-year anniversary of his inauguration on Wednesday, his job approval rating has plummeted from the thrill of 68% after his first week in office to the agony of 46%, the lowest level yet recorded in a recent CBS News poll. In tomorrow’s special election for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, according to Public Policy Polling, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley “is actually more popular than Obama—she has a 50% favorable rating while he has a 44% approval rating.”
This fall from grace reflects a squaring with reality that has hit the public, but not Obama. He continues to have the audacity to compare himself flatteringly to past presidents, by invoking their words or deeds.
On January 7, speaking of the intelligence and security breakdowns related to the “underwear bomber,” Obama used a slight variation on a phrase made famous by former President Harry Truman. Obama said, “Ultimately the buck stops with me. When the system fails, it’s my responsibility.” Truman had a sign on his desk, “The Buck Stops Here!”
Obama also used Truman’s pledge, “The buck stops with me,” on March 18, 2009 when discussing the outrage over executives from AIG reaping $165-million in bonus pay after a $180-billion taxpayer bailout of the insurer. "Ultimately I'm responsible,” Obama continued. “I'm the president of the United States. And my goal is to make sure that we never put ourselves in this kind of position again."
But a year into his presidency, how has the buck stopped with Obama? There’s a total disconnect between what he says and what he does. Israel could teach us to emulate their error-free airport security but Obama’s Mideast envoy is too busy threatening Israel with sanctions. Our president lashes out at bonuses paid to bailed-out company executives, while he hits them up for political contributions. And whatever happened to his first-day-on-the-job promise that, “Transparency and rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency”? How is that consistent with health care reform secretly negotiated by Democrats? (Forget about Obama’s campaign guarantee to show the process on C-Span.) “ObamaCare” is infected with sweetheart deals, ranging from vote buying to giveaways to unions. And how about Obama’s treasury secretary, who was head of the New York Fed when it ordered AIG to hide details of its billions in overpayments to Wall Street firms?
The CBS poll found public fear of another terrorist attack in the next few months is at its highest level in seven years and that the public gives Obama their lowest approval so far on his handling of the economy (41%) and health care reform (36%).
It is hubris for Obama to link himself to the accountability of Harry Truman. Historians declare that Truman was one of the greatest U.S. presidents as a defender of national security. Truman led the country from World War II to a peacetime economy that avoided a recession. It is incredibly nervy for Obama to suggest that he measures up to Truman’s candor and willingness to accept responsibility for himself and his administration.
Yet associating himself with past presidents by recalling their language and accomplishments is nothing new for our president.
Only four months after his inauguration, Obama declared at a Hollywood fundraiser, "I would put these first four months up against any prior administration since FDR. We didn't ask for the challenges that we face, but we don't shrink from them either."
Actually he expanded them, to the bursting point. By May 2009, Obama had rammed through his $787-billion “economic stimulus” that doubled the nation’s debt and failed to stem the loss of 4.2-million jobs by year-end (the most since 1940). His bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and foreclosed homeowners were underway and have since become financial fiascoes. He in fact nationalized General Motors, Chrysler and AIG and turned his focus to nationalized health care.
In those first four months, his Homeland Security Secretary redefined terrorism as “man-made disasters.” His Secretary of State told reporters that the Obama Administration has stopped using the phrase “war on terror.” He insisted that the Guantanamo Bay prison housing terrorists be closed “as soon as possible.” He declared war—on the CIA by releasing Justice Department memorandums from 2002 and 2005 describing interrogation techniques, authorized for use by the CIA against detainees in secret detention facilities, which he ordered closed.
Four months into his term, Obama also embarked on a worldwide “apology tour,” saying America had been, as he put it, arrogant, “dismissive and even divisive.” He bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia and greeted Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez with a broad smile and a “soul brother” handshake.
As we approach the anniversary of the president's inauguration, if he is going to properly compare himself to any other U.S. president in words and deeds, he should pick Jimmy Carter, whose infamous “malaise” speech described a “crisis of confidence,” and “a fundamental threat to American democracy” which ominously sounds like America today.
Carter said, “The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.
“Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years.
“The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide.”
Another president that Obama likes to compare himself to is Abraham Lincoln. But the quote attributed to Lincoln that best applies to Obama a year into his presidency is: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.