Has President Barack Obama traded hope for fear in 2012?
President Obama has gone a long way by being the anti-George W. Bush. He won the 2008 election because Americans were sick of Bush. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, simply because he wasn’t Bush. But with three-and-a-half months to go before his last election, Obama has become George W. Bush: a not-very-popular incumbent whose strategy is to convince voters that his opponent is worse.
In today’s New York Times/CBS News poll, Obama trails Mitt Romney 45 percent to 43 percent. And the percentage of voters who disapprove of his handling of the economy has risen from 48 percent in April to 55 percent today -- a clear majority.
Obama’s approval ratings are worse than Bush’s at this point in his term. In July 2004, 52 percent of Americans approved of the job Bush was doing as president. For Obama, the figure is 46 percent.
But the Times/CBS poll nonetheless underscores a national trendline in which the economy remains the dominant force in the campaign, regardless of outside events like the Supreme Court ruling on Mr. Obama’s health care law or the daily sticks-and-stones of the trail.
Yet there are some hopeful glimmers for Mr. Obama, who is viewed in this poll as the advocate for the middle class. For instance, just over half of the voters said that his policies were improving the economic picture now (17 percent) or would in the future (34 percent).
And he maintains an advantage over Mr. Romney when it comes to the question of whether he cares a lot or some about the problems of everyday Americans — 63 percent said he did, compared with 55 percent who said the same of Mr. Romney.
A plurality of Americans, 49 percent, agree with Mr. Obama’s assertion that the Bush-era tax cuts should continue on adjusted gross annual income of $250,000 and less. More than a quarter say the cuts should stay in place for all income groups; 17 percent say they should expire altogether.
Like every presidential challenger, Obama campaigned on a platform of ending the bipartisan bickering in Washington. He admitted last week that “I haven’t been able to change the atmosphere here in Washington to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people -- Democrats, Republicans, and independents -- who I think just want to see their leadership solve problems.”
Not only has he failed to change it, he’s become a participant, airing nasty campaign ads portraying Mitt Romney as a heartless millionaire who made his fortune by sending American jobs to foreign countries.
If Obama had inherited a better economic situation from Bush, he wouldn’t have to campaign that way. But Obama’s term in office has been coincident with the Great Recession, a crisis which may end up permanently lowering Americans’ standard of living. There was never a chance the economy would recover in four years, which means there was never a chance Obama could ask voters to re-elect him the man who brought back the good times. Instead, he’s been forced to campaign as the exact type of partisan hatchet man he condemned in 2008.
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