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Rich Lowry: Obama at a 'dead point'

Posted: May 4, 2014 - 3:08pm

When the Washington Post-ABC News poll at the end of March showed a very slim plurality supporting Obamacare, Democrats hoped the health-care law had finally turned the proverbial corner.

Then came the Post-ABC poll in April. It had the law underwater again, with 44 percent supporting it and 49 percent opposed, right back to where it was in January.

This is consistent with a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll that has 36 percent of people considering the health-care law a good idea and 46 percent a bad idea, and consistent with the Kaiser poll that has had support for the law at 38 percent to 46 percent the past two months.

The more Obamacare’s standing with the public changes, the more it stays the same. Democrats always want to insist that the debate over the health-care law is over. If so, they have lost it — at least the debate over whether the law is worthy of support.

The March Obamacare enrollment surge hasn’t brought springtime for President Barack Obama, just the soggy reality that he stands to be about as much of a drag on his party in November as anyone would have expected a few months ago. He ticked up to a 44 percent job-approval rating in The Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, while he is at 41 percent, his lowest showing ever, in the Post-ABC News survey.

According to every indicator, the public is sour, the economy lackluster and Republicans much more motivated to vote than Democrats. The general environment looks to be November 2010 all over again, except it hasn’t been preceded by an interlude of historic Democratic accomplishments.

The president just concluded an appropriately desultory trip to Asia. He has always wanted not to “pivot to Asia,” as the slogan would have it, but to pivot to home. The grand strategy abroad has been to duck and cover and hope the unraveling of the U.S. position is slow enough that any dire consequences can be avoided until, say, Hillary Clinton’s first term.

There are two big problems with this approach. One is that while the public is exhausted with the world, it can’t enjoy seeing us look powerless or get humiliated by thuggish adversaries.

This explains the seeming paradox of the president giving the public what it wants — You think we should have less influence in the world? No problem! — but still getting low marks on foreign policy. He’s at his lowest rating yet, 38 percent, on his handling of foreign affairs in the WSJ-NBC News poll.

Approval for his handling of the Ukraine crisis specifically is in the 30s in both polls. And that seems high. The president’s excruciatingly labored response to Russia’s slow-rolling invasion of a sovereign European country constitutes, at best, a flashing yellow light for Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

As the distressing news piled up during the president’s Asia trip — no Trans-Pacific Partnership, no Middle East peace deal or even Middle East peace process — the president compared himself to a singles hitter. The leader of the free world probably imagines himself Ichiro Suzuki, one of the great contact hitters of all time, when his record puts him more in league with Mario Mendoza.

Obama is at what Abraham Lincoln once referred to during his career in Illinois, using steamboat lingo, as a “dead point” — weak abroad, frustrated at home and looking at a brutal November.

Maybe the midterms won’t be so bad. Certainly, this White House has proved itself adept at turning the pointless and jejune to its advantage. So perhaps the Koch brothers and the “pay gap” and whatever else it comes up with will limit the losses.

But barring something truly unforeseen, the president will still be worse off in Congress than he is now, and another step closer to certified lame-duckery. Despite his boasting about March enrollments, it is still the springtime of his discontent.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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