Assessing Obama

“Better than average for a president.” That was the assessment of Barack Obama by NPR commentator Juan Williams during today’s Midday on MPR. The show analyzed the performance of Obama in his first year in office. That’s also code for “if the election were held today, could he win again?”

If the election of 2008 were held today, would you change your vote?(opinion)

A Rasmussen poll last month suggested 49% of those surveyed said they were not likely to vote Obama for re-election if the election were held today. But those polls are usually pretty inaccurate until you start adding the names of opponents to the question.

Clearly, the enthusiasm for Obama has waned. But that was “irrational exuberance,” according to Williams.

“There will be a greal deal of exultation, especially among Democrats, if you get a health care bill passed,” Williams said, predicting passage of “something” by the State of the Union. But then the question is whether the American people. “That could be a huge problem,” he said.

“Independents are moving away from Obama on two issues: health care and stimulus. When people hear about limits on Medicare spending, people say, ‘No, we don’t want that,'” he said.

Eichten asked Williams if perhaps Obama should be a little tougher on Democrats in Congress, invoking the legend of Lyndon Johnson, who took no prisoners. “There’s no reason to be afraid of him,” Williams said. “People don’t fear this White House because they realize ever vote is so critical if you’re going to hold that 60-vote majority in the Senate. Every senator is king so it’s less about punishment than inducing carrots. He’s going to have to break some legs at some point; the famous LBJ response.”

“Who’s to blame for the lack of bipartisan cooperation?” host Gary Eichten asked.

“It’s fair to say Republicans came to the conclusion that there’s very little in their self interest in working with the president,” Williams said. “It would just guarantee that President Obama would be re-elected. Now, as we see some of the difficulties on the Democratic side, they’ve been able to point out the flaws. The other side of this is you have people like Rahm Emanuel, who is a hardball player, and not willing to compromise.” Williams said Emanuel has made clear that by compromising, nothing will be done and people will vote Republican in the next election.

That’s a response that’s worth considering further, of course, because it concludes that’s what’s in the best interest of the people in Washington, is politicians getting re-elected. That may be the only bipartisanship happening.

Williams also noted that the people who supported Obama a year ago, have disappeared from elections since.

What does the electorate say? Here’s a sample of some of the callers’ opinions.

“One year? This is nothing.”

“I don’t think this guy has really done anything that he said he was going to do. He came out on a theory of change; nothing has changed.”

“The Republicans have abdicated their duty and aren’t interested in the political process; they’re just interested in preventing Obama from getting any victories.”

“The Senate reworked their rules so that it would be more divisive. Americans are fickle. They say they’re for family values, but they’re only interested in the almighty dollar.”

“I think he’s had an exceptional year given the circumstances… the financial markets have rebounded, unemployment claims are down, retail’s expecting a higher volume.”