It’s been a bad summer for the Obama administration. At home, the president’s negligible legislative agenda remains stalled as his incessant attempts to demonize Republicans have poisoned efforts to find common ground on even those areas where large elements of both parties might work together. Even Democrats consider the rollout of ObamaCare to be a “train wreck” as implementation of parts of the program are being postponed and the impending devastation on employment and business may be as much if not more of a nightmare than Republicans thought it would be. A late spring of scandals (Benghazi, the IRS, press snooping) has given way to a summer of paranoia about the National Security Agency that the president has proven incapable or unwilling to address.
Abroad, the administration’s embarrassing failures in Syria (where it has ignored the “red line” the president enunciated about chemical weapons), Egypt (where its embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been followed by a dangerous ambivalence as the military has launched an effort to decapitate the Islamist movement), Iran (where it has wasted five years on pointless diplomacy as the ayatollahs get closer to a nuclear weapon), and the Israel-Palestinian conflict (where it has invested heavily in a revived peace process that has little chance of success and may do more harm than good) have worsened his standing in the world as well as at home.
When you add all this up, it’s little wonder that the president’s approval ratings have been steadily heading south for months. Given that the only chance for a temporary revival of his political stock is if Republicans shut down the government in a futile and suicidal effort to stop ObamaCare, it’s fair to ask whether this is the moment when Obama must be acknowledged as a lame duck.
Normally, discussion of lame ducks must wait until after the midterm elections when the White House’s political influence declines dramatically and even the president’s party begins to think more about a future without the incumbent than the present. But the spectacle of the ObamaCare meltdown and a divided Congress may accelerate this process.
Tracing the president’s approval ratings this year via the Real Clear Politics average poll bar graph, it’s easy to see that the president’s post-election honeymoon died a lingering death this spring once the season of scandals began and has morphed into something that is starting to resemble George W. Bush’s poll numbers in a similar period. It’s not likely that anything that happens in the coming year will result in a media pile-on such as the one that was produced by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But in the absence of anything resembling an economic recovery and with the near certainty that worse is in store abroad courtesy of Iran, his numbers may never recover.
This is more than a semantic question; once the political class in Washington begins to smell the ripe stench of presidential irrelevance it is all over for any resident of the White House. As the president contemplates a fall in which he has far more chances to flop than succeed, the faint echo of quacking is starting to be heard.