When a politician loses the love, he clings to his base. President Obama is no different. On Election Day 2008, Obama won a majority of voters with incomes under $50,000, tied McCain among voters earning over $50,000, tied McCain among voters earning over $100,000, and beat McCain among voters earning over $200,000. In winning, Obama ran better among white voters than John Kerry did in 2004. Since then, Obama's world has changed -- a lot.
According to the Quinnipiac poll released today, the middle class is giving the thumbs down to the president. A majority of Americans with incomes between $50,000 and $250,000 disapprove of Obama's performance in office. Only those with incomes under $50,000 and above $250,000 approve of the way Obama is getting the job done. At the same time, Obama's approval rating among white voters has slipped to 37 percent. Obama is now in Carter-Mondale country.
Not coincidentally, Obama's renewed courtship of his base, namely Wall Street and urban America, has coincided with middle class disapproval of the president. The headline on Bloomberg News said it all: “Obama doesn’t begrudge bonuses for Blankfein, Dimon.” The text of the story was pretty much the same. The president confessed that he knew "both those guys.” Obama also observed that ”They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That’s part of the free market system.” Giving kudos to plutocrats is not the same thing as giving a shoutout to the New Orleans Saints. And yesterday, Obama met with Al Sharpton, Benjamin T. Jealous of the N.A.A.C.P. and Marc H. Morial of the National Urban League to discuss jobs.
Obama has only himself to blame for losing Middle America. In attempting to right America's economy, Obama neglected the middle class and is now paying for that mistake. From the get-go, Obama took care of Wall Street. His stimulus package attempted to salve the woes of the Blue States' budgets, and Obamacare targeted Americans with incomes under $50,000 at the expense of current Medicare beneficiaries, i.e. grandma and grandpa.
Instead of driving "shovel-ready" programs that would rebuild America's infrastructure and put a drill and tools in dad's hands -- trading-in a television remote and a beer -- Obama opted to indulge his core supporters. The administration offered financial guaranties to the financial markets, chased the dream of health care for non-citizens, and worried about cap-and-trade and solar power. As the song goes, "you're out of touch."
And it is not as though Obama was not warned. During the 2008 Democratic nomination drive, Obama repeatedly lost the middle class vote and primaries in large states such as California, Pennsylvania and Texas. A coalition of the affluent and educated on the one hand, and under $50,000 voters on the other, may even be enough to win an election. It is not, however, a blueprint for governing in the midst of a recession.
Rather than repeatedly attempting to emulate President Lincoln, Obama should take a page from the playbooks of Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Leave grandiosity to posterity. Focus on things that matter to most Americans, things like jobs, roads, bridges and schools. And instead of currying favor with Wall Street, the president might try to connect with Middle America -- as difficult and as discomforting as that may be.
Lloyd Green served in the Justice Department during the presidency of George. H.W. Bush.