In the Arena

Peaking Too Soon?

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According to the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, the President’s approval rating is up to a robust 54%–and rightly so, after his superb Tucson speech last week. Taken together with the legislative successes of the lame duck session, his recovery since the November election debacle has been dramatic. There are also indications that the public attitude toward his health care reform bill is improving. All of which means…

He’s due for a fall. Just kidding. Sort of. My professional colleagues–if, indeed, journalism is a profession, which it probably isn’t–tend to be congenitally uncomfortable with a popular President, especially when there isn’t a crisis going on. The cable TV bloviators need action, friction, controversy. So we’ll see how long this lasts.

A prediction: Next week’s State of the Union message will be compared unfavorably to the Tucson speech. Being a SOTU, it couldn’t possibly match up…since SOTUs are, of necessity, laundry lists and tours of every possible horizon, from Afghanistan to energy legislation. You’re bored already, right? Actually, State of the Union speeches are usually reviewed far worse within the Beltway than they are out in the country where, with a few exceptions, the public is willing to give the President an hour or so to lay out his plans for the coming year. This year, the dopey Beltway commentary trope is likely to involve bipartisanship. Everything the President says will be graded according to whether the Republicans can swallow it. This is appropriate, within limits–although those limits will be exceeded almost immediately, I predict.

A better standard would be: how well do the President’s proposals address the problems we’re facing in the world, especially the economic problems. That what I’ll be trying to concentrate on, after the speech.

Finally, one thing we should keep in mind in all this: Obama is Obama. The various perceived shifts–to the right, toward accessibility rather than intellectuality, and so forth–are momentary mirages. He was always a moderate, and remains so. He was always a force of calm and sanity in difficult moments like the September 2008 financial collapse, and proved it again in Tucson last week. He is not a rabble rouser, a big emoter or one who will stoop, for good or ill, to political tricks or postures that he considers cheap or demeaning.

The public likes and respects him now. The Republicans are impressed and daunted by him this week. See you next week.