Obama needs to be liked

Al Kamen
Columnist September 27, 2011

President Obama, getting hammered by disenchanted Democrats and hyper-energized Republicans, at least can take solace — a la Stuart Smalley’s affirmation mantra on “Saturday Night Live” — that “doggone it, people like me.”

Favorability is important, the experts say, because people generally tend to vote for candidates they like. Given the widespread unhappiness with Obama’s handling of the economy and low approval of his performance in office, it may be key to his chances in 2012.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

And people do like him — just not as much as they once did.

Obama’s favorable ratings are down 32 percentage points from an inaugural high of 79 points, to 47 percent in last week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll, Post polling manager, Peyton Craighill tells us. Obama started from a higher perch, however, as no recent presidents started out with favorables above 70 percent.

Still, his drop rivals the swoon of George Herbert Walker Bush, who started at 65 percent, rocketed to 80 percent after Desert Storm in 1991 and then dropped 39 points in one year to 41 percent a year before the election, which he lost in a three-way race to Bill Clinton.

Clinton’s favorables held up better than Obama’s in his first term. He started at 68 percent and never dropped below 50 percent. Going into the 1996 campaign, he was at 54 percent favorable and handily beat Sen. Bob Dole.

Post data for George W. Bush show his popularity still at 66 percent in December 2002 — a year after the 9/11 attacks. He dipped to 47 percent in March 2004 — where Obama is now — and stayed in that range for the rest of his term. But he won reelection, beating Sen. John F. Kerry by 2.4 percentage points in the popular vote.

Going further back — and using data from other national polls — we see that Ronald Reagan was under 50 percent in 1983, but by 1984 he moved above that percentage and stayed there, wiping out former vice president Walter Mondale.

Jimmy Carter bounced around the 50 percent mark in 1978 but dropped to 40 percent in the spring of 1980 and lost in a landslide to Reagan.

So, unless the economy improves a lot or the Republicans self-destruct, it would appear that Obama needs to keep his favorables no lower than they are now.

Large scandal, extra cheese

Former pizza-parlor worker Jack Abramoff has a new dish to serve: He’s hawking a book.

Abramoff, who might as well add the phrase “disgraced superlobbyist” to his legal name, has written a tome that promises to be, according to a publisher’s blurb, a “corrective” account of his much-chronicled scandal, our colleague Emily Heil reports.

Publishing sources say Abramoff had been shopping around a first-person telling of his rise to the top ranks of the Washington influence game — and his epic fall, which included a stint in federal prison for fraud, corruption and conspiracy. After several major houses passed on the project, Abramoff finally found a publisher in WND Books, which turns out a number of fine titles, including “Where’s the Birth Certificate: The Case that Obama Is Ineligible to Be President” and “Climategate: a Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam.”

Well, why not? After all, it seems we’ve heard Abramoff’s story from everyone but the ex-lobbyist himself. The oeuvre, in addition to countless media articles, includes books such as Peter Stone’s “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” which was turned into a hilarious 2010 movie starring Kevin Spacey in the title role.

But the Abramoff-penned book — “Capitol Punishment” — is said to offer new details to set it apart from the well-trod ground in the existing accounts.“The fascinating facts of his case are either largely unknown or wildly misunderstood,” the blurb on Amazon teases (you can pre-order now, but the publishing date isn’t until Nov. 14).

Abramoff has been keeping a low profile since leaving federal prison in June of last year after serving three and a half years. Post-clink, the once highflying Abramoff lived in a halfway house and worked at a kosher pizza joint in North Baltimore.

We’re guessing he’ll have to ditch the low-key routine once he hits the book-signing circuit.

Unfortunate things

As in those Dracula-rises-again movies, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is once more considering the never-ending quest of Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema to have a life sciences award be given in his name.

It’s not enough that, with Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi toppled, Obiang, 32 years in power, is now No. 1 on the list of the longest-serving dictators on the African continent. Now, with the support of some African and Arab nations, he wants UNESCO’s executive board, which is meeting in Paris this week, to make the award.

Loop Fans may remember that UNESCO in 2008 agreed to set up the award — endowed for five years with a $3 million gift from Obiang — but grants were temporarily blocked last year by outraged human rights groups; Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who’s in charge of UNESCO funding on the Senate side; and others.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said UNESCO would be “burnishing the unsavory reputation of a dictator” by taking the money. The State Department has long said Obiang ran the tiny, oil-rich nation through “arbitrary arrest, detention . . . harassment” and so on.

The groups have organized anew. Leahy weighed in again Tuesday, writing to the executive board to say that the $3 million was probably looted “from the public treasury” and that “it would be very unfortunate if UNESCO were to compromise its reputation” by doing so.

Unclear if “very unfortunate” is related to the possibility that someone in Congress might move to slice a chunk off Washington’s $78 million yearly contribution to the organization. That’s about 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget, we were told.

Moving on . . .

Top White House aide and 2008 campaign veteran Stephanie Cutter is off to Chicago at the end of the year to join the Obama reelection campaign operation as deputy campaign manager overseeing press and communications.

Moving up . . .

The Senate has confirmed career Foreign Service officer Thomas Countryman, most recently principal deputy assistant secretary for political-military affairs, to be assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. The Senate on Monday confirmed the career member of the Senior Foreign Service to the position.

Follow in the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.

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