As a major piece of legislation inches its way through the Senate with little or no help from him, President Obama’s standing among voters and in the world arguably has never been lower.
- His foreign policy speech in Berlin was widely ridiculed. Liberals largely didn’t bother to defend him.
- His poll numbers continue to slide.
- Russia rebuffed him on Syria. China rebuffed him on cyberterrorism. Both the Israelis and Palestinians ignore him.
- The economy remains fragile, poised to crash if the Fed shuts off the spigot, so his “recovery” remains the worst in modern times.
- His fondest hope — to acclimatize the voters to bigger government — is in tatters as scandals have driven distrust of government through the roof.
- The press has turned from sweet to sour, docile to confrontational.
- There is and will likely never be a grand bargain during his presidency.
- His most cherished accomplishment, Obamacare, remains hugely unpopular and is plagued by implementation issues.
- He has managed to annoy the left and right on anti-terrorism tactics.
- In most states where Senate seats are in play in 2014 he is a drag on the Democrat (e.g. Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, Colorado).
- His anti-gun initiative failed and isn’t going to come back as its supporters hope.
That leaves three questions for the remainder of his term. First, what does he do for the next 3 1/2 years? What he wants he can’t have or can’t talk about without ruining it. Second, does he try to come back with a burst of bipartisanship or a foreign-policy coup (where that might occur is hard to discern), or does he continue to hope against hope that the House will flip in 2014, the Senate will hold and the American people will unleash him and the left to work their will? Third, what happens if and when a true national security crisis hits?
I will focus on the last since it is most important. On one hand, many a president has steadied his ship by showing command in foreign affairs. Unfortunately for him, Obama’s retrenchment, retreat and reduction in the defense budget don’t suggest a formula for foreign policy success. Moreover, the looming disasters (Iran with the bomb, Syria’s chemical weapons in the hands of terrorists, Jordan collapsing under the weight of refugees, a confrontation between China and one of our allies in Asia) not to mention the potential, God forbid, of another terrorist attack, outweigh whatever opportunities might be available (e.g. the “peace process” is dead, his nuke-free-world ambitions are laughable, a terrific outcome from our premature evacuation in Afghanistan isn’t happening). And if serious dangers do present them, does anyone have confidence that the likes of John Kerry, John Brennan, Chuck Hagel and Susan Rice will display competence?
An adviser to a senior Republican senator expects “a lot of skirmishes, trench warfare and small ball” from here on out. From today’s vantage point, that does seem most likely. It is not unusual for presidents in their second term to run out of gas as most of their ideas have been implemented or rejected and third stringers come into the White House. But we are just finishing the first six months of Obama’s second term. That’s a long time to vamp and lash out at straw men.