QUOTE OF THE DAY – AT 8:29 A.M. ET: Many on our side are baffled by the fact that a failed president can be doing so well in the polls. But Rush Limbaugh said yesterday that the amazing thing was that Obama wasn't 20 points ahead, given the way in which the mainstream media boosts him, no matter what he does, no matter how badly he fails.
Yes, it does seem like a weird election, and some, like Harvard's Niall Ferguson – no fan of Obama's – are saying that the whole race may simply come down to likeability, that vague notion of feeling comfortable with someone.
The legendary political reporter Lou Cannon, who covered President Reagan, reflects on the likeability factor and its impact on Reagan, and now on Obama. From RealClearPolitics:
He’s aloof -- his critics say “arrogant” -- but, like Reagan, Obama is skillful at spoofing the opposition. Obama recently quipped that Republicans are so enamored of tax cutting they believe it can improve one’s sex life. Reagan said he wasn’t worried about the deficit because it was big enough to take care of itself.
Still, as a journalist who covered Reagan’s political career and wrote five books about him, I confess to unease about the likability standard. During Reagan’s presidency, the observation that he was likable was usually a put-down, as in Washington insider Clark Clifford’s crack that Reagan was an “amiable dunce.” Two decades later Howell Raines wrote that “Clifford was charged in a banking scandal and the dunce ended the Cold War.”
Reagan was a transformational as well as likable president. He pledged to cut taxes, increase defense spending and balance the budget, carrying out the first two promises at the expense of the third. In his second term, he negotiated effectively with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, reducing the threat of nuclear war and helping lay the groundwork for the Soviet Union’s demise. Retrospectively, the American people in Gallup polls rank him with Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy as the greatest of presidents.
Obama hasn’t reached such lofty heights and he realized that Americans are disappointed that he hasn’t done better at alleviating unemployment or reviving the housing market. But the “likability” of Obama can also be a put-down. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, derided by Republicans as “Obamacare” and advocated and signed into law by Obama, is a significant achievement, like it or not. When it comes to health care, Obama succeeded where other presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton tried and failed.
The election, however, is more than 50 days away and as my editor at The Washington Post used to say, 24 hours is a long time in the life of a politician. Compared to 2008, there are 800,000 fewer Democratic voters in the eight closest swing states listed by RealClearPolitics and only 100,000 fewer Republican voters. Reagan political adviser Stuart Spencer notes that Obama is dependent on a high turnout of the minority and young voters who voted heavily for him four years ago.
“The election is Obama’s to lose,” said Spencer. “But he hasn’t won it yet.”
COMMENT: New polls out today show Obama gaining in swing states, but the polls were taken early in the week, right after the Democratic convention, and before the turmoil in the Mideast. We wait today's trackers. Rasmussen has shown Romney gaining, but Gallup still has him way behind. That's a matter of methodology.
There's no doubt that Americans feel warmer toward Obama than toward Romney. Romney's real chance lies in convincing voters that they will be worse off under Obama. In effect, he's got to get them to get beyond personality. It is going to be difficult, but I think it can be done. It is the press bias I worry about. We saw it on full display this week, and if anything other than his neutral personality sinks Romney, it will be that.
Of equal importance, I think it's possible for Republicans to take control of the Senate, but not by more than a vote.
Nothing has been decided, and I put nothing past Obama. He will do anything to win, and he has been helped throughout his political career by sudden events that have happened in the last months of his political campaigns.
It may be September 14th, but, in a way, we're starting from zero.
September 14, 2012