Media Meme: #Obama STALL

Item: ""The honeymoon is coming to an end for President Obama, but it's not personal. It's professional," says NBC's Chuck Todd.

Item: "In poll, Obama seen as ineffective on the economy."

Item: An influential foreign policy journalist sees the U.S. as struggling to find the right posture on Iran.

Item: Coverage of the President's financial regulation plans are biased toward the unfavorable reaction of Wall Street.

Item: Numerous analysts conclude that the tempo of health care reform is slowing down because fiscal realities (and the CBO) are intruding on the optimism and energy.

Item: President Bush feels emboldened to step up criticism of his successor.

Item: Presidential pal/rival John McCain says the President isn't showing leadership.

Item: Bill Maher wants Obama to act a little more like Bush and take some risks.


Them's a few days worth of headlines. And I didn't even mention the gays! The media is on a kick these days. Where Obama's agenda has been packed of items and accomplishments, he's on a roll. Then, "realities" always intrude, and Obama's agenda "stalls" as the public begins to have doubts.  The cycle of coverage seems to be based, or at least, set to the music of the public's appreciative murmurs or disapproving groans.  The reality, as always, is that Obama is never as up as he is when he is "up," and never in as bad a spot as he is when he is "down."

The same polling that suggests some growing skepticism about Obama's ability to contain the deficit shows that his approval rating remains near 60 percent, down only slightly. Americans remain -- and are growing -- much more confident about the future than they were. Americans do not blame Obama for the deficits. They have a much better impression of the Democratic Party than they do the Republican Party, which seems to be going out of its way to help the Democrats.

There has always been a gap between Obama's personal popularity -- as Chuck Todd points out -- and support for some of his policies. But take a look at which policies are unpopular: the bailout of the auto industry and deficit spending -- policies that the public still associates with Republican excesses, not with Obama's.

To be sure, the public opinion landscape is less positive for Obama than it was, and independents, in particular, don't quite accept the White House's grand narrative about why these deficits are OK but these deficits aren't.  I've seen private polling done for Democratic House races out West that shows real concern among less-ideological Democrats about the direction of Obama's economic and health care policies.  A Democratic strategist who has close ties to the leadership in Congress tells me  "that the budget deficit and spending are very hot button issues  hat are permeating into races on all levels and creating a sour mood 
that could potentially explode in our face. " Reports of opposition to a "public plan" are overrated, but the political reality will be created by the party that best frames the issue: putting government between you and your doctor is the favored riff of Republicans these days, thanks to Frank Luntz. It's catchy. The Obama-Democratic riff is that health reform is an imperative. The public agrees with Obama and is also afraid of the effects of reform, as if there's a way to somehow reform a major institution without affecting the people who are happy with it.  That dissonance is always present in public opinion, easily able to be exploited by both sides of an argument.  It's a little disingenuous to say that a major revision of health care in America won't touch those who like their insurance plan and their doctors. Some Americans are bound to find that their choices narrow, or increase; that their premiums may rise, or fall; that the number of tests they get declines; that the insurance company begins to bother them more frequently about preventative medicine. 

So -- Democrats in Congress are slowing down a bit, and the calendar for health care legislation is being expanded, as the White House knew that it would.

The upshot of all of this is to say that the media meme is reductive. There are some fairly solid baselines for the Obama presidency, and there are some trends that his strategists are going to watch. 

I would not expect this White House to overreact. "These days happen once every couple of months," a senior administration official e-mailed this morning. "They are almost like clockwork."

And when given information about the costs of health care and its likely impact on the deficit, the numbers for electing Republicans, not just generically, but any named candidate, under 
the header "to bring back balanced government" go through the roof, this strategist says. That explains why Democratic Senators are panicking about the early, preliminary CBO scores: they don't want the public to see the plans first in terms of the deficit. They'd rather them see the good parts: universal coverage, etc.