The question wasn’t really as comprehensive as it could have been, but the Washington Post-ABC news poll was nevertheless startling: a majority of those responding, 52 percent of them, described Barack Obama’s presidency as a “failure.” Even one in four Democrats agreed to that word: “failure.”
We can debate whether that’s all that significant, or whether polls reflect more than just an instant of collective opinion, whether the methodology was all that it should have been. We also should never forget how news coverage usually is superficial at best, or worse, ideologically incendiary, even ignorant. There also is the contention that Republicans have conducted themselves shamelessly, often putting their partisan desire to regain power over the good of the country. Certainly we can factor in the argument that the Obama administration has spent a lot of its energy simply cleaning up the huge messes left behind by George W. Bush’s people. But whatever the reasons, the widespread perception is that the majority believes this president is a failure.
Maybe the larger question is whether, in our poisonous atmosphere of U.S. politics, any president can be a success. At the end of his term in 2009, a CNN poll showed that 68 percent of the respondents described the Bush presidency as a failure. Obama’s message was “Change you can believe in,” but maybe it really was “I’m not George W. Bush.”
And now, after President Obama promised to extricate our country from the Iraq tragedy that the Bush administration lurched into, he is recommitting the country into a new fight in and around Iraq with promises that there will be “no American boots on the ground” — really meaning just a few boots.
Even with the horrors committed by the vicious ISIL militants in Iraq and Syria, this president is getting both resistance from his own party and, of course, lots of sniping from the Republicans. The biggest absurdity is the stream of contemptuous ridicule spewing from, of all people, Dick Cheney.
Cheney was the leader of the band that marched this country into the fiery failure of Iraq, which bred these latest extremist monsters. But here he is condemning Barack Obama for trying to undo his damage.
Is it possible that President Obama finally has been worn down by the years of relentless political opposition? Could that be the explanation for someone who had been noted for being smooth taking such avoidable stumbles.
Why else would he have said something so clumsy as we “don’t have a strategy yet” a few days ago, when he really meant that his people were carefully developing one. All he did was pin a “kick me” sign on his back, with his political enemies more than happy to oblige. They were just as quick to jump on him after he spoke with the parents of beheaded journalist James Foley and then immediately went off for a round of golf.
The pressure is only going to get worse. Barring a huge upset, the GOP IS going to take over the entire Congress, making the final two years of his office defined by paralysis at best.
Meanwhile, the wannabes on both sides are lining up to succeed him. They’re already shouting their grandiose promises, but maybe they’d strike a chord if instead they conducted a campaign of reduced expectations. If they faced the American people and merely pledged to take baby steps, joining the opposition after struggling together out of our national quicksand, maybe a skeptical country would respond.
The bigger job would be to really do it. Once in office, the new president will be faced with not only the never-ending international crises, but also political hostilities at home that seem to be unresolvable. They must be resolved. Perhaps instead of focusing on still another new beginning, the chief executive will need to focus on stopping the country from hurtling toward its ending.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.