Things aren’t going well for President Obama these days. A U.S. appeals court struck down a key mandate in his health care law to force uninsured Americans to purchase medical coverage. The economy is tilting toward a recession amid rising unemployment. His job-approval score fell to a new low of 39 percent last week.
Nearly four months before the presidential marathon officially begins, Mr. Obama’s lackluster economy remains the overwhelming political issue in the country. And Mr. Obama was campaigning across the Midwest this week with a tattered bag of warmed-over proposals he said will get the economy moving again, including his all-purpose remedy: tax increases.
If raising taxes in a struggling recovery, which barely grew by 0.8 percent in the first six months of this year, is a political winner, Walter Mondale would have beaten President Reagan in 1984. Instead, the former vice president - who ran on a platform of raising income-tax rates - lost 49 states.
But Mr. Obama is a slow learner. Since the shockingly weak gross-domestic-product growth numbers for the first two quarters came out last month, he has been making one excuse after another for his economic failures, as he was doing again in Iowa on Monday.
There he was in Cannon Falls, Minn., “describing a litany of unexpected shocks to the economy - from the earthquake in Japan to the unrest in the Middle East,” The Washington Post reported. But does anyone believe the tepid U.S. economy is the result of the “Arab Spring”?
Usually, when the economy goes into a nose dive, the president comes out with a full-blown plan aimed at getting the country back on track. Presidents meet with their top economic advisers and unveil new growth agendas they can send to Capitol Hill.
Upward of 20 million Americans are either unemployed or forced to take part-time or temporary jobs or have dropped out of the work force because they couldn’t find work. This calls for strong medicine, but Mr. Obama offered a disappointing grab bag of leftover legislation that he’s been trying to get Congress to pass for the past three years:
Still more temporary public works and job stimulus spending to hire construction workers; three trade agreements that have been sitting on a shelf since the George W. Bush administration; overhaul of patent laws; tax credits to hire veterans; extension of the payroll tax cut, which expires in December, for another year; and more unemployment benefits.
This is not a growth agenda. There are no substantive tax cuts to unlock capital investment and spur new business expansion and jobs. On the contrary, Mr. Obama’s call for tax increases will result in business retrenchment, job cuts and weaker growth.
He ridiculed last week’s Republican presidential debate in Ames, Iowa, when all the GOP hopefuls raised their hand when asked if they would oppose raising taxes in a down economy.
“Think about that. … That’s just not common sense,” Mr. Obama said at a town-hall meeting Monday. But what kind of economic school of thought says you raise taxes when unemployment is going through the roof? How can that be good for the economy?
Mr. Obama thinks it is, and he’s taking his soak-the-rich tax philosophy on the road, knowing it plays well with the ultraliberal base of his party, which thinks he has compromised too much with the Republicans.
The Gallup Poll’s daily job-approval tracking surveys show he is not only losing independent swing voters who put him in the White House, but also some of his party’s rank and file whose enthusiasm clearly has waned in key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio that he must hold if he is to win a second term.
That’s becoming a steeper climb for Mr. Obama as he loses some of the swing constituencies that helped put him in office. These include college graduates, who can’t find jobs.
While “the new lows in Obama’s job approval rating represent only a slight drop from his previous low readings, they symbolically underscore the weaker position the president is in,” a Gallup analysis said Tuesday.
“Ten incumbent presidents have sought re-election since World War II, and none has won a second term with final pre-election job approval ratings below 48 percent,” Gallup reminded us.
The last two presidents who lost their bids for a second term - Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 - had job-approval scores in the 30 percent range in the fall of the election year. “Thus, Obama’s challenge is not only to move his rating back above 40 percent, but also to push it close to or above 50 percent,” Gallup said.
“If the president is not able to turn around the negative momentum in his ratings during the fall months, it may be more and more difficult for him to do so as the presidential campaign begins in earnest next year,” Gallup added.
In his dispatch Monday on Mr. Obama’s Iowa visit, Washington Post reporter Zachary A. Goldfarb pointed out that “Obama’s bus tour is taking him to relatively prosperous areas of the region” where the jobless rate is less than the 9.1 percent national average.
The president may think he can avoid running into jobless workers in his campaign appearances, but they will find him on Election Day at the top of the ballot.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.