President Obama dropped below 40% in approval in the recent Marist poll. It is interesting that his jobs proposal, as the pollsters describe it, is a lot more popular than he is. As with the recent CBS/NYT poll, his favorability rating is now in negative territory.
If all that weren't enough, Barack Obama has lost David Brooks. Brooks is the mild mannered pundit who passes for a conservative at the New York Times. He is a specialist at being thoughtful and reasonable. In a recent column he explicitly backed the President's new jobs program. Here is how he feels now.
I liked Obama's payroll tax cut ideas and urged Republicans to play along. But of course I'm a sap. When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill…
Being a sap, I still believe that the president's soul would like to do something about the country's structural problems. I keep thinking he's a few weeks away from proposing serious tax reform and entitlement reform. But each time he gets close, he rips the football away. He whispered about seriously reforming Medicare but then opted for changes that are worthy but small. He talks about fundamental tax reform, but I keep forgetting that he has promised never to raise taxes on people in the bottom 98 percent of the income scale.
Brooks is hardly a man with a large following behind him, but if the President could win over anyone even vaguely conservative or Republican, it would be someone like Brooks. Now Brooks is utterly disgusted with Obama.
Much the same is true of Ross Douthat.
Last week, in the wake of President Obama's jobs speech, I wrote that the president seemed poised to campaign for re-election on an essentially centrist policy agenda: A short-term payroll tax stimulus, a plan for tax reform that would close loopholes while lowering corporate rates, and a long-term plan for deficit reduction modeled on the grand bargain that the White House and John Boehner were supposedly close to striking during the debt ceiling negotiations. The president's goal in 2012, I suggested, would be to try to paint himself as the moderate bipartisan grownup, and dismiss the Republicans as extreme, intransigent, and hyper-ideological.
Based on the actual details of the deficit plan that the administration just released, though, I would like to retract that analysis. Between the size, scope and design of the tax increases and the skimpiness of the entitlement reforms (nothing on Social Security, minimal tinkering on Medicare), it seems that the president will be running for re-election as Nancy Pelosi instead.
These aren't flaming right wingers. Neither are the more moderate Senate Democrats, who seem very unlikely to vote for his proposed tax increases.
It is not clear what the strategy is behind the President's moves of late. The most coherent explanation is that he has largely abandoned the middle and will concentrate on rallying the Left. This isn't necessarily crazy. He may be hoping that he can win the middle back later by painting the Republican nominee, whoever he is, as a flaming extremist. Meanwhile he is raking in lots of money. But that means giving up a lot of ground in the meantime. It looks like a sign either of desperation or disarray. Of course, those aren't mutually exclusive.