With Great Hope Comes Great Responsibility

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Comparing the national mood in the summer of 2009 with the national mood in the summer of 2001 is a bit like comparing bald eagles with chickens. Not only are they different birds altogether, but they live in entirely different environments. In the summer of 2001, the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent. In the summer of 2009, it stands at 9.4 percent, with more short-term bad news on the horizon.

Nonetheless, RealClearPolitics’s Tom Bevan highlights a striking finding in the most recent CNN/Gallup/USA Today survey. Respondents were asked “Do you consider the first six months of the Obama administration to be a success or a failure?”

Thirty-seven percent (37%) said they believe the Obama administration is a “failure,” while 51% consider it a “success” and 11% say it’s still “too soon to tell.”

An identical question was asked of the Bush administration in an August 2001 CNN/Gallup/USA Today survey.  At the time, 56% said the Bush administration was a “success” while only 32% considered it a “failure.”

So what does this mean? I have no way of separating the environmental factors from the broadbased concern with Barack Obama’s success. (No doubt the president’s recent stumbling on health care is also a factor.) But the data does raise the question of expectations. Clearly Obama has come into office with his sights set much higher that George W. Bush in 2001. And with greater ambition comes the possibility of greater failure.