July 21, 2010

The Impotence of Being Snakebit

Hatched by Dafydd

No, he's not there yet. But he's trending in that direction... and he knows it. It's already starting to affect his responses -- he's drifting, drifting into Nixonian levels of paranoia and Johnsonian levels of ennui.

All right, let's back up and start this right. First, I love the July 13-19 Quinnipiac poll showing that President Barack H. Obama's job approval has plunged to 44%, with 48% disapproving -- a 9 point drop in the spread (from positive 5 to negative 4), just since May. Even better is their finding that very few Americans other than die-hard Democrats want, at this juncture, to see Obama reelected: By a 39% to 36% margin, respondents chose the generic Republican over President Obama.

The president is in a slump right now, but he could still pull it all back... at least in theory. Paul Mirengoff of Power Line is convinced that the economy will improve significantly before 2012, and that a rising economy would make Obama very competitive in his reelection bid.

It could happen that way; generally, the American economy automatically recovers from most recessions. But history tells us that if the federal response to an economic downturn is stupid enough, recovery can be delayed indefinitely -- as Franklin Roosevelt's disastrous handling of the Great Depression conclusively proved.

I think even Paul would agree with me that if the economy hasn't improved significantly by early 2012 -- with real employment being the primary indicator of such improvement -- then Obama will head into his reelection without the upper hand; without a drawing hand; without a useful under-handed move he can make; in fact, with no hand at all.

But even if the economy limps forward, avoids a double-dip recession, but shows no dramatic recovery, I suspect his approval ratings would continue to slump. And a very important tipping point looms.

When a president's approval sinks low enough, there is nothing he can do to recover; he becomes effectively impotent, neutered. No matter what action he takes to help the economy, the people become further enraged at him:

  • If he raises taxes, Left, Right, and Center are furious that he's raising taxes in the middle of a recession.
  • But if he lowers taxes, the Right is furious that he's adding to the deficit; the Left is furious that he's pandering to the Right; and the Center is furious that he's not "creating jobs."

The mechanism at work is the opposite of normal. Under normal circumstances, the people evaluate the policy; if they like it, their approval of the president rises; if they don't like the policy, then approval drops and disapproval rises. But in the situation above, where the president has become unpopular enough, people dislike any policy he enunciates just because they dislike him. If he's fer it, they're agin' it -- no matter what "it" is!

The crisis becomes a vicious circle, a negative feedback loop: The people having decided that they dislike the policy because the disliked president proposed it, they then seize upon the now-disliked policy to disapprove of the president all the more so. The technical term for such a negative feedback loop of job disapproval causing policy rejection causing more job disapproval is "snakebit", if Peggy Noonan can be believed. (And why shouldn't we?)

Eventually the president strikes rock bottom; empirical observation puts that point at about 35%; that's the number of people who would vote for a yellow dog if it called itself a (fill in the blank party).

  • George W. Bush hit bottom and stayed there.
  • Richard M. Nixon came close and probably would have cratered, had he stayed on.
  • And if Barack Obama cannot find a way to really swing the economy around, visibly and spectactularly -- for example, by turning into a pro-Capitalism triangulator -- I believe he will find the same hole as the others.

At the moment, the Obamunist is on a direct glidepath to the snakepit, and there are very few ways for him to reverse course... particularly since the best way to do so is to dramatically remake oneself, as Bill Clinton did; then go before the American people, apologize for his mistakes, ask forgiveness, and promise to turn over a new leaf -- as Ronald Reagan did at the nadir of the Iran-Contra scandal.

But from my read on the current occupant of la Casa Blanca, that option is a non-starter: Obama would have to (a) admit he was wrong, then (b) do an about-face on his signature issue, the economy. I'm not sure which task would be more psychically painful to the man who announced that his ascension to the Petal Throne would cause the oceans to begin to recede and the Earth cool.

Paul Mirengoff is a real expert on Washington D.C. He lives and works there (all right, on the Maryland side); he's an attorney; he's well-connected in conservative and Republican circles; he lunches with movers and shakers -- and I don't mean guys who drive vans full of furniture while singing "Simple Gifts" -- in fine, he's plugged in to the Washington zeitgeist. But he has a chink in his Achilles heel: Paul Mirengoff is relentlessly establishmentarian; as it was, so shall it be, there is nothing new under the sun.

I have none of his political advantages, but what I do have is a speculative ability; from my training both in mathematics and science fiction, I see trends as physical, moving forces... and I sometimes can skate along them to their far ends and see how it all comes out, when to others it still seems as if it could go either way. (For example, I could tell just a few days into the "long count" of the 2000 election in Florida that Algore was never going to surpass Bush, and that the latter would finally prevail.)

I won't say it's inevitable that Obama will become snakebit; but there is a swing, a momentum in that direction; and it's getting heavier with every passing day. If I were required by law to wager $100 on the future, I would bet that by 2012, Obama's reelection will look so dismal that, like Lyndon Johnson, he simply declares godlike success and walks away from the wreckage.

Then he'll write a third autobiographical memoir, and it will be filed in the fiction section at Borders.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 21, 2010, at the time of 11:57 PM

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The following hissed in response by: snochasr

I would go further, and suggest that he will cling to power until it becomes obvious to his sycophantic media lapdogs that all is lost and only then will he withdraw into himself, and from the race, leaving Democrats scrambling for an heir apparent. Not even the most arrogant Democrat, to the degree that term isn't redundant, would want the job of climbing out from under the rotting corpse of the Obama presidency.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2010 7:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: Ken Hahn

Obama had his dream job but it carried a transition to his nightmare. He was perfectly suited to be President elect. It carried honor, prestige and the right to criticize anyone without any real danger. Unfortunately he became President with terrible consequences for him and for us. He has no administrative ability. He has no capacity for self criticism or growth. He will continue to poison his ratings because he will never admit the possibility of error. He will destroy himself.

The only question is whether he will destroy the country in the process.

The above hissed in response by: Ken Hahn [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2010 1:07 PM

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