Using four points on the political compass, the direction our president is going in is turning him into "Wrong Way Obama."
When you plot the president's path regarding money, message, messenger and momentum -all strengths for him during his campaign - his recent trend lines are all heading the 'wrong way'.
On money, a Los Angeles Times poll found "90 percent of Americans are worried, to some degree, about the exploding federal spending deficit" and a recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that "only 25% of U.S. voters now say the stimulus plan has helped the economy." On message, a CBS News poll determined that 52 percent believe Obama is trying to "accomplish too much" and 57 percent see the country on the "wrong track." On messenger, while the president remains popular as a person his ratings for actually doing his job and on specific issues have been dropping to levels that threaten his aggressive liberal agenda.
This is reflected in momentum. The July 26 daily Rasmussen poll shows the continuation of slipping support for Obama. Only 49 percent of Americans at least somewhat approve of the president's job performance. Below 50 percent approval for an incumbent is a danger sign. When the question becomes one of "strong" approval or disapproval Obama's rating is minus 11, a new low point for the president and the first time this negative is in double digits. Only 29 percent strongly approve versus 40 percent who strongly disapprove.
In a July 9 Rasmussen poll, voters trusted Republicans more than Democrats on eight out of ten key electoral issues, including the number one concern, the economy and also national security, taxes, immigration and government ethics.
On the one issue the president is currently most urgent about - health care reform - his call for quick passage of legislation reflects the momentum that is building against him. Public support for Obama's handling of health care reform is at a new low of 49 percent and support for health care legislation in Congress is even lower, just 44 percent, in the latest Rasmussen national telephone survey of likely voters.
As the president heads the wrong way on matters of money, message, messenger and momentum it again raises a question that has followed him since his election. Will he turn out as a president to be more like Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton? Like Obama, both Carter and Clinton began with high personal popularity. Like Obama, both men strenuously pushed liberal policies. However, at the end of Carter's presidency he was reviled personally and as a leader. At the end of Clinton's presidency, he maintained personal popularity despite his roguish misadventures and he was judged favorably because of a strong economy.
It's too soon to tell if Obama will suffer a Carter-like meltdown or will exhibit a Clinton-like ability to course correct when his policy priorities prove unpopular. It is, however, intriguing to reach back in history to two other "wrong way" figures to put Obama's motivations into context.
In the 1929 Rose Bowl game between Georgia Tech and the University of California, Cal's star center and linebacker, Roy Riegels, recovered a Tech player's fumble and raced toward the end zone - in the wrong direction! Although tackled just a yard short of the wrong end zone, Riegels' reverse run set up a series of plays that resulted in his team losing. For the rest of his life he was nicknamed "Wrong Way Riegels." Riegels later said he had lost his bearings as he pivoted to elude an opposing player. He said running the wrong way was an unintentional mistake.
Between the years 1935-37, an airplane mechanic named Douglas Corrigan wanted to repeat the 1927 solo trans-Atlantic flight of his hero, Charles Lindbergh. But Corrigan was repeatedly denied permission because regulators deemed his plane unsafe and inadequately equipped for such a long journey. On July 17, 1938, after flying cross- country from California to New York, Corrigan filed a flight plan to return to California. Instead, his plane took off at 5:15 the next morning, heading the wrong way - east. Twenty-eight hours and 13 minutes later, he landed at a Dublin, Ireland aerodrome and despite his claims of confusion it was an obvious ruse. However, his daring charmed people around the world. He became an international celebrity, immortalized by the nickname "Wrong Way Corrigan."
So, will Obama wind up seeming more similar to: Carter, Clinton, Wrong Way Riegels or Wrong Way Corrigan? Whether he ends his presidency as "Wrong Way Obama" depends on how he recovers fumbles, the flight plan he chooses, how and why he makes any changes in direction and where he and the country land.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.