Perhaps it's a risk for any incumbent Democratic president running for re-election, but President Obama now finds himself being compared by Republicans to former President Jimmy Carter.
"Obama's America - Malazy," trumpets a new ad by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, combining Mr. Carter's "malaise" speech with Mr. Obama's recent characterization of America as "lazy" in the pursuit of foreign investors. The ad is titled "Two presidents, one excuse."
It comes on the heels of polling that showed Mr. Obama's job-approval rating of 43 percent is lower than Mr. Carter's rating of 51 percent at the same point during his presidency in 1979. Mr. Obama's popularity has never reached the depths of Mr. Carter's low point of 28 percent, however.
"President Obama's poll numbers are worse than Jimmy Carter's poll numbers. For the first time in his presidency, he's waking up this morning wishing that his poll numbers were as good as Jimmy Carter's," Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Former GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, now co-chairman of Mitt Romney's campaign, last week called Mr. Obama's performance "stumbling, bumbling, ineffective" and reminiscent of the nation's 39th president.
Mr. Carter is generally recognized as one of the worst presidents of the past half-century, hence the GOP's eagerness to promote the comparison.
"Barack Obama is the Barney Fife of presidents," Mr. Pawlenty said.
The Obama campaign didn't respond to a request for comment, but prominent Democratic supporters say it's a stretch and won't gain traction with voters.
"It feels like an early ad in a party that hasn't figured out yet how to go after the incumbent president," Simon Rosenberg, founder of the progressive group NDN, said about the GOP video. "They're going to have to do a better job than that."
Mr. Rosenberg said the comparison to Mr. Carter won't stick because voters don't blame Mr. Obama for the poor economy, as they did with Mr. Carter.
"The reason this isn't like Jimmy Carter is, Barack Obama inherited all of these problems," Mr. Rosenberg said. "The real story of this election is that the president understands what's going on in the global economy. [Republicans] are not in touch with what is going on in today's economy."
Whether Mr. Obama understands how to tackle the economic challenges, he also is talking like a president who knows voters are dissatisfied with his record. He told supporters at a fundraiser in New York City last week that "real change, big change, is hard."
"It takes more than a single term," Mr. Obama said. "It may take more than a single president. If you are willing to work harder in this election than you did in the last election, change will come."
History will record that Mr. Carter, who failed in his bid for a second term, never uttered the word "malaise" in his nationally televised speech on July 15, 1979. Although an energy crisis was the reason for the address, Mr. Carter spoke of a "crisis of the spirit in our country."
He also lectured Americans: "In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption."
Although Mr. Carter's intent was to inspire, his speech became the standard for a defeatist attitude in politics.
Republicans claim to see the same sentiment in Mr. Obama's "lazy" comment. At a summit in Hawaii last month, Mr. Obama said, "We've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades" in reference to collective U.S. efforts to promote foreign investment. Mr. Romney and fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry seized on the comment to accuse the president of calling all Americans lazy, an accusation that Obama aides say took the president's words out of context.
It's not the first time Mr. Obama has criticized America for losing its competitive edge. In October, Mr. Obama said, "We have lost our ambition, our imagination and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge." In September, he described America as having "gotten a little soft."
"This is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades," Mr. Obama said. In campaign speeches, he has frequently complained that America no longer has the best "stuff," including airports and classrooms.
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