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President Obama, Welcome to Bush’s World

In the middle of February, veteran Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg gave some free advice to his party’s Congressional leaders via the New Republic, urging them to take a series of steps to minimize Democratic vulnerabilities (and losses) in the fall elections.

It has been four months since Greenberg’s article, “Disaster Relief: How to Avoid a Repeat of 1994,” appeared, but there is no sign of a Democratic turnaround on the horizon — only more depressing news and pessimistic public opinion data for Democrats.

The news on joblessness and the U.S. economy, combined with growing concerns over the federal deficit, Europe’s financial health (particularly growing debt), the lack of progress of the war in Afghanistan and the damage resulting from the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, are burying the president and his party in an avalanche of public dissatisfaction.

As former President George W. Bush found out only a few years ago, a never-ending supply of bad news saps a presidency, and a political party, of its strength.

Voters who once felt hopeful and gave the new president the benefit of the doubt instead distrust the White House’s explanations and assume the worst. No number of high-profile speeches will reverse the decline. Only good news will, and it isn’t anywhere to be found.

Greenberg’s first suggestion for Democrats in February was to “quickly pass a version of the Senate health care bill.” That was wise advice because the alternative — getting no bill at all — would have been disastrous for the party.

But the highly regarded strategist’s prediction that passing a bill “will raise presidential and Congressional approval ratings” was overly optimistic.

In mid-February, when Greenberg’s article appeared, Obama’s job ratings stood at 49 percent approve/50 percent disapprove in a CNN poll. A month later, days before Obama signed the health care bill, the president’s poll numbers stood at 46 percent approve/51 percent disapprove, and more recently, a mid-June CNN survey found Obama’s job ratings at 50 percent approve/48 percent disapprove — largely unchanged from February.

Gallup had Obama’s job rating at 51 percent approve/42 percent disapprove in mid-February, 50 percent approve/43 percent disapprove in mid-March and 49 percent approve/44 percent disapprove in mid-June — again, largely unchanged during the period.

And the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, conducted June 17-21, offers a similar picture, with the president’s job rating down to an approval of 45 percent, with more respondents disapproving of his performance for the first time in his presidency.

Congress’ job rating (22 percent approve/73 percent disapprove) is up a bit from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal March survey (17 percent approve/77 percent disapprove), but the institution is still held in very low esteem.

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