WASHINGTON, January 30, 2014 — Despite delivering a bland State of the Union address Tuesday night, polls report that President Obama is still worshipped by 81 percent of his party, and the Democrats remain the more popular of the two national parties.
If Obama ran for a third term, he might conceivably win with overwhelming support from racial minorities, public sector employees, academics, and Hollywood and media celebrities. The critical reason that Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted in the last few months is the failure of the health care rollout, an operational blunder that the Republican media have played for all it’s worth.
Do not overestimate this temporary strategic advantage, however. If Obama’s spin doctors can lure young healthy bodies into signing up for Obamacare, and if employment rises noticeably, the president may find his poll numbers going up again. He is not permanently weakened, and given his dedicated core constituencies and the continued adulation of the news and entertainment media, he is still in the game.
It is for this reason that no matter what he promised his supporters (and it is only to them that he spoke), Obama’s comments, however tiresomely framed and delivered, must be taken seriously.
Obama does not have to reach out very far to capture a large constituency; he already controls about 40 percent of likely voters. In his speech he let his congressional opposition know that if they don’t go along with his agenda, he will rule by executive order. No matter how far his poll numbers fall, his Republican opposition in the House remains even less popular.
It matters little that the inequality Obama tells us has “deepened,” has become truly glaring on his watch. Black and other minority voters, who have suffered from high unemployment, are unlikely to abandon him or his party.
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. The SOTU address was a bore, full of the canned lines that we have heard in other forgettable Obama performances. He has trouble departing from his set script. For example, references to fighting for the equality of all Americans “whatever their gender or sexual preferences” came up multiple times in different forms in the speech. One would think from this repetition that the country was dealing with the enslavement of women and the lynching of homosexuals rather than serious unemployment.
The amnesty bill, which Obama and the Democrats are hoping to pass in order to solidify their Latino base, is unlikely to make it through Congress. According to polls, most Americans are opposed to amnesty. Obama continues to flog the subject. Obama panders to his base, but must he appeal to it every time he gets in front of a camera?
What we were led to believe would be a central element of Obama’s speech turned out to be relatively trivial. Because Congress is not likely to approve another hike in the minimum wage, Obama will go it alone and raise the wage for those working for federal contractors.
The general impact on wage structures caused by this grandstanding will be minimal. It will not address the chronic problem of high unemployment. The higher wage for federal contractors is there to satisfy Obama’s union supporters — at least for the moment.
But what does he do when the same people come back insisting on more?
Young people want government loans to help them buy a college degree, and Obama is eager to throw more public funds at them in the name of “building for the future.” The future of what? Over 40 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed. Perhaps he’s building the future of the Democratic Party.
Unfortunately for Obama, this patronage approach to executive governance, together with the unleashing of the IRS on the other party and its donor base and the gathering of records on citizens through the NSA, may have outlived is effectiveness.
Most ominously, independent voters — who were once Obama’s magic weapon outside his base and who, according to a recent Pew Research Poll, constitute 46 percent of the electorate — have turned against the president with a vengeance. According to real clear politics, 53 percent of independents polled consider Obama to be a “threat to civil liberties,” a perception that has been nurtured by information about how his administration has gone after its opponents and engages in surveillance. The majority of these independents are unhappy that Obama has avoided discussing the need for more jobs in the private sector, and they are bored by such themes as inequality and the fictitious GOP “war against women.”
The fact that Obama produced for his performance on Tuesday a woman with a pre-existing cancer condition who benefited from Obamacare will not turn around Independents on this issue. They still distrust the president’s medical plan by over 60 percent.
The administration has not only run out of gas. It may be discovering that it is trapped in its base.
Obama’s situation is analogous to the GOP focusing all its energy on cultivating the Religious Right, a group that the GOP takes for granted because it knows that it has these voters in its pocket. Obama expends more energy accommodating gays and the feminist lobby than he does doing those things that most voters expect him to do. This problem was clear from his speech, which underscored his problem of moving beyond his electoral base.
At this point, President Obama seems unable to change the game plan.