Paterson's Free Fall

By Derek Thompson

NY Gov. Paterson's approval rating just plummeted to the lowest rating of any governor in the history of Marist polling (and worse than Eliot Spitzer mid-scandal).

The NY Times' explanation makes sense on its face: Paterson has been dealt a terrible hand with the economy; the stock market has been collapsing since he stepped into office; he's had some internal scandals (including the Caroline Kennedy snafu); and he's obviously run out of money to do things, so he's suggesting all sorts of extravagant spending strategies and conservative media is trashing him wherever they can. So, obviously, it makes sense that his approval rating is at 26%.

On the other hand, consider Obama. He's been dealt a terrible hand with the economy; the stock market has has been collapsing since he stepped into office and fallen another 20% or so since his stimulus plan passed; he's had all sorts of internal scandals (Daschle, Geithner, Gregg, who needs to count them?); and he's obviously run out of money to do things, so he's suggesting all sorts of extravagant spending strategies and conservative media is trashing him wherever they can. So, obviously, his approval rating is at 62% - eerily the exact palindromic opposite!

How can we explain that? For one, the public knows where Obama stands. He's for expanding the size of government to battle the recession. Bam, the end. But Paterson doesn't have option to run a 1.7 trillion dollar deficit this year. In fact, he's not supposed to run a $1.70 deficit if I understand state budget laws correctly. So all the poor guy's got is taxing Coke and porn downloads, which reeks of desperation.

Lessons from Paterson's free fall: Maybe it's that a similar fate awaits Obama if the public becomes as frustrated with the state of the economy as New York. But maybe it speaks to Obama's singular ability to use his public image as a salve--to project a sense of order and calm in a situation that naturally calls for disorder and panic. So far, it's provided insulation against the erosion of his public support. We'll see if it can provide similar insulation against the continued erosion of the stock market.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/03/patersons-free-fall/1155/