The White House had expected Obamacare to have a flood of customers by this point, some six weeks after HealthCare.gov opened for business. But so far, that flood has been more of drip – not even a trickle. Only about 40,000 people have signed up for health insurance through the 36 state exchanges run by the federal government, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The Affordable Care Act goal for October was 500,000 enrollees. Wow. Obviously the technical problems plaguing the sign-up website are taking a huge toll. Is this as big a disaster as it seems?
We’d say no and yes, depending on what aspect of the new Obamacare system you’re looking at.
The “no” part is due to the fact that the 40,000 figure, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, undercounts what’s really going on. As we noted, it’s a figure from the states that have opted to not run their own insurance marketplaces, or exchanges. That forces the Feds to do it for them.
Fourteen states, plus the District of Columbia, chose to run their exchanges themselves. Twelve of these states have enrolled an additional 49,100 people, according to an estimate from Avalere Health, a market analysis firm.
Plus, the exchanges are only one prong of a two-prong Obamacare strategy to cover more of America’s uninsured. The other is the expansion of Medicaid. Those with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level – $15,856 for an individual or $32,499 for a family of four – are now eligible for Medicaid coverage in states that have agreed to go along with this coverage extension.
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A total of 25 states are participating in Medicaid expansion. (A US Supreme Court ruling allows states to reject federal funds for this purpose.) So far, there are 440,000 new Medicaid enrollees in only 10 of these states, according to an Avalere Health estimate.
Add up these numbers, and you’ve got about 530,000 Obamacare enrollees of one type or another.
Does that mean they’re actually hitting their October half-a-million goal?
Not necessarily. The 500,000 figure comes from a letter cited last month by Rep. Dave Camp (R) of Michigan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. It’s not clear whether it's meant to refer to all enrollees, or exchange enrollees alone, according to the Post.
Given the continued struggles of the electronic enrollment system, this might be a moot point in any case. That brings us to the “yes” part of the answer as to whether the current numbers reveal serious problems.
There’s no way to coat this with sucrose: Obamacare functionality remains far worse than the administration had believed it would be at this point. Jeffrey Zients, the management whiz brought in to try to fix the system, has said that as glitches get fixed, more traffic flows downstream, only to get snagged on problems that hadn’t shown up before.
It’s now clear that when Obamacare launched on Oct. 1, the government had done very little testing of the system, writes Bob Laszewski, a well-respected insurance-company consultant, on his blog “Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review.”
What’s happening now is the Feds are in the midst of what is typically a lengthy testing and fixing program for big software projects.
“It is clear they don’t have a few weeks of work left; they have months of work left,” according to Mr. Laszewski.
It’s time for the White House to figure out a Plan B, he says. For instance, the administration could tell potential enrollees to stop trying to deal with the state exchanges and call insurers directly to sign up. This would make it difficult for people to comparison-shop and impossible to determine if they’re eligible for government subsidies.
But the subsidy question could be sorted out in retrospect, when the 2014 tax deadline rolls around in April 2015.
“People who have been waiting patiently for guaranteed issue subsidized health insurance can’t get to it and there is little hope they will find a smoothly running system capable of handling an enormously back-loaded demand” by the administration’s self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline, writes Laszewski.
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These are questions that Decoder gets quite a bit, since we’ve done pioneering work on the origins of American holidays. (See our classic work on the myth that is “Presidents’ Day,” here.)
The quick answer to the Veterans Day question is that no, it honors a different, larger group of people than does Memorial Day. Veterans Day is about taking time to recognize all US service personnel from all wars. Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and died in the service of their country.
The longer, background answer is that their origins are also very different.
Both grew organically out of other holidays that commemorated the end of wars. Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day and took place on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, which was when the armistice that ended World War I took effect. Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day, when survivors and loved ones decorated the graves of those who perished in the Civil War. It is in the spring because that is when flowers bloom and thus can be gathered and placed on resting sites in memoriam.
Since Monday is Veterans Day, we’ll go into its history in a bit more depth. Armistice Day was first celebrated in 1919 at the direction of President Wilson. The original idea was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a time of silence at 11 a.m., the hour of day the armistice took effect, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs history of the holiday.
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service,” Wilson said at the time.
Congress in 1926 passed a concurrent resolution that set aside Nov. 11 as a commemoration of World War I’s end. At the time, lawmakers directed that the day should involve thanksgiving and prayer and “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
In 1938, Congress passed another measure that made Armistice Day an official legal holiday. It was primarily for World War I veterans, and the cause of furthering world peace.
Then World War II intervened, followed by the conflict in Korea. Something more inclusive seemed appropriate. In 1954, Congress struck the word “Armistice” from its previous law and inserted in its place “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first presidential Veterans Day proclamation, saying that the US was expanding the scope of the holiday and that it was now a time for all Americans to “solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly ... to preserve our heritage of freedom.”
Then the big shake-up of 1968 occurred. Congress passed another bill, this one the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill – legislation that aimed to shuffle certain US holidays around to create three-day weekends for increased leisure and business purposes.
Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day were the federal holidays picked to move to Mondays at the time. Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October. All but two states – Mississippi and South Dakota – voted to move state Veterans Day activities to the new date.
But many states weren’t happy about it. Veterans Day belonged in November, closer to the original source of the World War I Armistice Day, in this view.
By 1975, 25 states had voted to move their recognition of Veterans Day back to its original date, according to a US Army history of the holiday. Congress took note, and the same year Washington gave in and passed a law “to return the Federal observance of Veteran's Day to November 11, based on popular support throughout the nation.”
That took effect in 1978.
Fifty years ago this day, President John F. Kennedy celebrated Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It was his last holiday before his fatal trip to Dallas at the end of the month.
The official ceremony at Arlington was brief. JFK placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns, the marble sarcophagus with associated graves that honors unidentified dead from World War I, World War II, Korea, and now Vietnam.
According to a tape of the ceremony posted at the always-interesting Presidential History Geeks website, Kennedy marched on foot to the tomb with other officials and members of the color guard. The small assembled crowd murmured as he approached. At least one youngster blurted out, “There he is!”
JFK then walked forward toward the sarcophagus with a large ceremonial wreath on a stand. A color guard member helped carry it, while walking backward.
After placing the wreath in position, JFK stepped back and stood at attention while a bugler played “Taps.” Then he marched away as quickly as he had come.
A few administration and military officials gave brief comments at a following ceremony. Kennedy was not among them. However, he had earlier issued the requisite presidential proclamation designating Nov. 11 as a legal holiday.
“This day has an important dual significance in that it gives each one of us an opportunity both to honor the dedicated men and women of all races and religious beliefs who have honorably served in our armed forces in time of war, and to reemphasize our determination to achieve world peace with patience, perseverance, and courage,” Kennedy said in the proclamation.
The setting of the Tomb of the Unknowns may have impressed JFK. While there, he turned to Rep. Hale Boggs and said, "This is one of the really beautiful places on earth. I could stay here forever," according to historian Thurston Clarke, author of "JFK's Last Hundred Days."
Kennedy did participate in another holiday-related act before his assassination. Thanksgiving was late in 1963, set for Nov. 28. But a few days after Veterans Day, on Nov. 18, he publicly pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey outside the Oval Office.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them,” JFK said in his Thanksgiving proclamation, which was issued prior to his death.
Kennedy did not live to see Thanksgiving that year, of course. He was gunned down in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 22.
Then he returned to Arlington National Cemetery. It was two weeks to the day after his Veterans Day appearance there. On Nov. 25, Kennedy was buried beneath the Custis-Lee Mansion, on a long slope that overlooks Washington and beyond.
Veterans stayed with him to the end. After the crowds had streamed away, a lone Special Forces solider, Sgt. Maj. Frank Ruddy, approached the grave. It was JFK who had revoked an order banning such soldiers from wearing their distinctive green berets. Now, Ruddy removed his beret and laid it on the Kennedy grave.
“He gave us the beret, and we thought it fitting to give one back to him,” Ruddy later said.
Someday, the political world may forget the time when Sen. Rand Paul was caught plagiarizing other sources for some of his speeches and writings.
But not now, and certainly not if he runs for president in 2016.
Sloppiness on his part (or, more likely, his staff) is not a hanging offense in Washington. Vice president Joe Biden is not the only one to have pilfered somebody else’s prose – forcing him to withdraw from the 1988 presidential race – and recovered politically.
But it is a blight on one’s brand, no matter that the Kentucky Republican has likened his case to a high school kid who got too cozy with Wikipedia. “Do I have to be in detention the rest of my career?” he asks.
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Sen. Paul has felt a sort of shunning. The Washington Times and Paul have “mutually agreed” to end his regular column, the conservative newspaper announced this week.
“We expect our columnists to submit original work and to properly attribute material, and we appreciate that the senator and his staff have taken responsibility for an oversight in one column,” Times Editor John Solomon said. The newspaper got stung by a Paul column on mandatory sentencing, parts of which were identical to passages in a piece in The Week, BuzzFeed found.
Paul will continue to be able to preach (in writing) to the choir, however, via the tea party web site Breitbart.com. Without mentioning the plagiarism flap or his split with the Washington Times, Breitbart executives embraced Paul in making the announcement this week.
“We are pleased to add Senator Paul to our lineup of fearless, original thought leaders," said Breitbart News CEO Larry Solov. "Most of all, we think the fighting spirit he has become known for is a perfect fit for Breitbart News Network and reflects that of our founder, Andrew Breitbart.”
"Senator Rand Paul speaks to a new generation of conservatives – ones who have become the foundation of the modern Tea Party and Liberty Movement," Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, said in statement. "We are honored to have his voice as part of our community."
Meanwhile, a couple more instances involving Paul using other sources without giving due credit have risen.
Salon reported Friday that “in two 2013 speeches, Paul borrowed from a conservative think-tank without attribution.”
“In his speech at the Value Voters Summit on October 11, Paul appropriated written material from the Gatestone Institute, a think-tank chaired by John Bolton.
“The transcript of the speech has been removed from Paul’s web site – as have the transcripts from numerous other speeches while Paul battles an ongoing plagiarism scandal – but it can be found using Google cache.
“Paul’s speech draws – without attribution – from two Gatestone Institute articles, ‘The Degradation of Christian Women Under Islam,’ published on September 11, 2013, and ‘Muslim Persecution of Christians,’ published on April 18th.
“While several elements of Paul’s speech were taken word for word from Gatestone, in other cases a single word or two was changed or added. Paul did not attribute Gatestone’s writing or research anywhere in the speech, as it was originally posted on his web site.”
Salon found another example of Paul using the work of the Gatestone Institute without attribution, this time in June in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
You can be sure that Salon, BuzzFeed, and hard-charging liberal journalists like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will continue probing Rand Paul’s published past.
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To name a few, there are good new volumes about his years in Congress (“JFK in the Senate,” by John T. Shaw), about the final months of his presidency (“JFK’s Last Hundred Days,” by Thurston Clarke), and even his general White House glamour (“Camelot’s Court," by Robert Dallek). There are books about JFK and Jackie, and JFK and Reagan, and JFK and the possible impact of his stillborn son. There’s a great book about Kennedy’s overall impact: “The Kennedy Half Century,” by Larry J. Sabato.
There’s even a book by former pro-wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura titled, “They Killed Our President: 63 Reasons to Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK.”
Count us among the unconvinced. By Mr. Ventura, anyway.
That said, Decoder still believes in the Kennedy classics. We’ve had to touch on the Kennedy era numerous times in our career, and there are three JFK books on our shelf we could not do without.
“JFK Reckless Youth,” by British journalist Nigel Hamilton. Yes, it’s kind of a salacious title, and it delves much into the young Kennedy’s romances – such as his affair with Inga Arvad, a Danish journalist whom the FBI suspected was a German spy.
But this 1992 classic is great on JFK’s troubled prep school years, the difficulties of his relationships with father, Joe, and older brother Joe Jr., and the general angst of his teen and early adult life. This puts the cool, unruffled façade of his political years in a whole different context. And where else will you read that he and a pal got in so much trouble at Choate that they sent a letter to the French Foreign Legion, asking to join?
“An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963,” by now-retired Boston University historian Robert Dallek. This is the definitive one-volume biography so far. It’s where we go to find pithy, accurate summaries of all JFK’s adult highlights, from his 1946 congressional race, to the 1960 presidential campaign, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, to his final 100 days.
This was the 2003 book that brought the full extent of JFK’s health problems to public view. Again, it sheds a different light on the calm, cool JFK demeanor, showing it often hid physical pain and frustration.
“The Death of a President, November 1963,” by William Manchester. This is a famous book that in our view is not famous enough. It is an extraordinary accounting of the basic facts of the trip to Dallas, the assassination, and the aftermath, as known in the mid-‘60s. To read it is to see where so many of the authors of today get their basic framework for the same material.
And it is gripping. Consider this, Manchester’s description of the post-assassination instant:
“Lee Oswald, watched by the stupefied [street-level witness Howard] Brennan, steps back into the shadows in the deliberate lock step of a Marine marksman retiring from the range. Below him he leaves madness. The plaza resembles nothing so much as a field which has just been swept by a mighty wind.”
Manchester’s book was initially authorized by the Kennedy family, and he had access to Jackie Kennedy and other key witnesses. They later deemed it unseemly and wrestled with the author over its publication. Though hard to find for many years (our copy came from a used book sale), it’s now available again in a 50th anniversary edition.
Vice President Joe Biden literally – literally, we tell you – congratulated the wrong guy for winning the Boston mayoral race on Tuesday night. Son of a gun! What will that old Acela-riding, shotgun-promoting, product of Scranton, Pa., do to get attention next?
Here’s the story in case you haven’t heard. Boston’s new mayor-elect is named Marty Walsh. Minutes after the election returns indicated Mr. Walsh’s victory, Mr. Biden reached out to pump the guy’s hand, verbally speaking.
“You son of a gun, Marty!” he said. “You did it!”
But it was the wrong Marty. The veep had called Marty Walsh, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy and the current president of a Boston government relations firm, as opposed to Marty Walsh, the labor activist and state lawmaker who’d just won the top City Hall job.
Wrong Marty did not get upset. He’s used to such mix-ups, apparently. He passed along the phone number of the right Marty, which he had on hand, probably taped next to the phone along with pizza carry-out info.
“Walsh said Biden then jokingly congratulated him for not being mayor,” said the Associated Press.
Flip-flop alert! The guy’s mayor, he’s not mayor, it’s good either way? Take a stand, Biden.
Anyway, here’s our take on this. The mix-up was not Joe’s fault. Why? Because you don’t really think he dials his own phone calls, do you?
He is not sitting in the basement man cave of the VP residence at the Naval Observatory with a cellphone, a ginger ale, and the big screen. He’s in an office somewhere with a list of congratulatory phone calls to make and the White House switchboard all primed to dial the numbers and line them up so Biden can go down the list as fast as possible.
After all, Biden on Tuesday night was the US congratulator-in-chief, to crib a phrase from NPR. He made at least 10 phone calls to winning Democratic candidates in state and local races.
Among those he got on the horn was John Lundell, who won the mayor’s race in Coralville, Iowa.
Mr. Lundell had been targeted for defeat by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political group that gets some money from the billionaire Koch brothers, whom liberals love to hate.
“He indicated that he was very proud of our city, that we took on the Koch brothers and successfully beat them by such a huge margin,” Lundell told reporters.
Finally, do you think it’s possible that the whole wrong-Walsh thing was a purposeful mistake?
Think about it. The 2016 race is already starting. Joe needs to get reporters to stop writing about Hillary and start writing more about him. If he’s going to run, that is.
Biden’s already got the gabby, regular-guy image. The Walsh mix-up only reinforces that and proves that, if you’re tired of cool, cerebral presidential types, he’s your guy.
Presidential second terms are a tough business. Ronald Reagan had the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton had the House of Representatives impeach him over the Monica Lewinsky affair. And George W. Bush saw his approval rating drop from 45 to 28 percent as the economy crashed and the war in Iraq lingered.
So President Obama was facing a tough task anyway.
Then came the Obamacare rollout.
With ill-disguised glee, Mr. Obama's opponent in the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney, told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that the Obamacare debacle "has undermined the foundation of [Obama's] second term."
Specifically, Mr. Romney was referring to the promises made by Obama that Americans who liked their current policy could keep it – something that is proving untrue for 7 million to 10 million people. And Romney's insinuation is clear: I wouldn't have done things this way.
Still, there is perhaps a bit too much truth in Romney's statement for Obama's liking.
Immigration reform? New federal stimulus to create jobs? No one is talking about those now. In fact, no one is talking about anything that Mr. Obama wants to talk about now because America is gripped by uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act that is the centerpiece of his presidential legacy.
How many people will be driven off their plans? Will health-insurance premiums rise or fall for most Americans? Will the health exchange website where people can shop for new insurance plans be accessible by the end of November as the White House promises? What happens if it isn't?
And so on.
At this point, we're not even quite sure what Obama's broader goals for a second term agenda are, aside from getting his eponymous health care law to a state approaching functionality.
As we noted, this is hardly a problem unique to Obama. To the contrary, it has become a second-term rite since Richard Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal. For Obama, that pattern had already become apparent earlier this year. Republicans in Congress were hammering him over the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, as well as reports that a section of the Internal Revenue Service was targeting tea party groups.
The inviolable law of every presidential second term is that it was followed by a first term, and that gives political opponents four years of missteps and secret documents to mine into partisan political gold. Second-term agendas are killed in just such a way.
Yet for the moment, the White House is doing the Republicans' work for them. The Republicans tried – and abjectly failed – to turn Obamacare against the president. Their government shutdown and debt-ceiling standoff backfired, public opinion polls showed.
Now, opinion polls show that the Obamacare rollout is backfiring on the president himself.
"The latest Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll shows Obama’s Presidential Leadership Index – which combines job approval, leadership, and favorability ratings – is at an all-time low of 43 (where a score of 50 is neutral)," Monitor reporter Linda Feldmann wrote Friday. Other polls show a similar trend.
In truth, Obamacare has backfired on the president before. It was the spark that kindled the tea party rebellion in the 2010 midterms. The unruly Republican House, which has stymied virtually every major piece of Obama-backed legislation since 2010, is in many respects the product of the anti-Obamacare backlash.
Why do you think the Republicans in the House have been so eager to undo the law? Because they were sent to Washington precisely to do it.
Now, as Obama stares ahead likely to another three years of fighting the Republican House majority that he played a role in creating – and which will certainly oppose his second-term agenda at every turn – the urgency to get Obamacare right becomes plain.
It's not at all certain that Republicans will give him the chance to do anything else.
Mitt Romney hasn’t had a lot to say since his defeat in the presidential election last year. It must be busy work organizing those expensive residences – the Salt Lake Tribune says a new home being built in Utah will make it five – he and his wife Ann have in their post-political life.
“Perhaps the most important lesson the president, I think, failed to learn was, you have to tell the American people the truth,” Mr. Romney said. “And when he told the American people that you could keep your health insurance if you wanted to keep that plan, period, he said that time and again, he wasn't telling the truth. And I think that fundamental dishonesty has really put in peril the whole foundation of his second term.”
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“Fundamental dishonesty” – not just being wrong but lying and then repeating the lie – is a hard charge, even for professional politicians. (One is reminded of the evil Francis Urquhart’s best-known quote in the BBC series “House of Cards:” “You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment.”)
Obama has had to backtrack (or “clarify,” in Washington parlance) on his claim that all Americans could keep their current health care plan if they so choose under the Affordable Care Act. Next to the devastating “glitches” in the HealthCare.gov sign-up site, that’s provided the juiciest target for Republicans wanting to “repeal and replace” – “replace” with what, nobody is saying – Obamacare.
“Obamacare barely made it through Washington, as you know,” Romney said. “And there is no question in my mind but had the president been truthful and told the American people that millions would lose their insurance and millions more would see their premiums skyrocket, had he told them that at the time it was going through Washington, there would have been such a huge cry against it, it would not have passed.”
It’s a sore point for the former Massachusetts governor, whose own state plan was cited as a model for the Affordable Care Act – including the individual mandate both plans include.
A recent poll by the Massachusetts Medical Society, a statewide physician group, finds that most people in Massachusetts today are generally satisfied with the health-care system there.
“Eighty-four percent of residents expressed satisfaction with the care they received over the last year, including 56 percent who indicated they are ‘very satisfied’ and 28 percent who are ‘somewhat satisfied,’” the survey report states. Seventy-three percent of residents reported that gaining access to health care they need is “not difficult,” and for serious medical problems, 86 percent said the amount of time they needed to wait was not a problem.
The fiscally conservative Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has called the state health insurance program “a well thought-out piece of legislation.”
But that didn’t keep Romney’s GOP primary election rivals from hammering him on what they called “Romneycare.” And of course, Obama had a lot of fun tweaking Romney on the subject, even though there are clear differences between the two plans.
Naturally, the most recent Republican presidential flag-bearer was asked on “Meet the Press” who he liked as the candidate for 2016.
He listed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, his 2012 running mate US Rep. Paul Ryan, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and Sen. Marco Rubio. Pointedly, he did not mention tea party favorites Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz.
Asked about the Cruz omission, Romney said, “I’m not going to disqualify anybody but I think I’ve indicated some of the names I think are most effective in becoming elected….”
A new book talks about why the Romney campaign rejected Gov. Christie as a possible running mate last year. “Double Down: Game Change 2012” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann says Romney’s campaign staff warned that Christie’s background was "littered with potential land mines.”
On Sunday, Romney went out of his way to praise Christie, who faces what’s likely to be easy re-election on Tuesday.
"Chris could easily become our nominee and save our party and help get this nation on the right track again. They don't come better than Chris Christie," Romney said. “He's a very popular governor in a very blue state. That's the kind of popularity and the kind of track record the Republican Party needs if we're going to take back the White House.”
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For years, it seems, Barack Obama had a golden political glow about him.
Following a knock-out keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he rode a short stint in the US Senate to the White House just four years later, handily winning re-election four years after that. The African meaning of his first name – “blessed” – seemed apt.
Along the way, and with the help of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, he won what is likely to be seen as his most important piece of legislation: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms, and the tea party movement roiled things further for Obama, whose race and parentage remained an issue for a small but persistent element of “birthers” and those never able to accept a black man as president.
Although he made light of it, the Affordable Care Act became “Obamacare” to those who viewed it as fatally flawed if not the end of western civilization. Feeling their political oats (not to mention the hot breath of potential tea party challengers from the right) Republican lawmakers pushed ever harder on everything from budgets to presidential appointments.
But through it all, Obama’s poll numbers – especially his personal popularity – remained relatively solid.
Now, that political glow has begun to dim.
Whether or not it’s just lame duckism with voters looking for the next new thing, or disappointment at the perception of failed policies and goals unattained – immigration, war in Afghanistan dragging on, Benghazi, Syria’s chemical weapons, NSA spying, certainly the miserable roll-out of the Affordable Care Act – Obama’s numbers have sagged appreciably … even his personal popularity.
In his radio/Internet address Saturday, Obama said the main thing that’s undermined the US economy in recent years is “the constant cycle of manufactured crisis and self-inflicted wounds” – a clear reference to the recent partial government shutdown, which he blames on Republicans.
“I know that what you often hear out of Washington can sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher – a jumble of unfocused noise that’s out of touch with the things you care about,” he said, again mainly a reference to the GOP.
Increasingly, voters see Obama as part of the problem.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this week has his job approval rating at just 42 percent, with 51 percent disapproval. While most analysts, pollsters, and pundits put most of the blame for the shutdown on Republicans, by a 41-21 percent margin respondents say they have a less favorable impression of President Obama after the shutdown rather than a more favorable one, NBC News reported.
And for the first time in the survey, even Obama’s personal ratings are upside-down, with 41 percent viewing him in a favorable light and 45 percent viewing him negatively, according to NBC.
“Personally and politically, the public’s assessment is two thumbs down,” says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll sees a similar trend in Obama’s popularity.
“There doesn’t appear to be any one overarching reason, policy or political decision to explain the drop in Obama’s popularity,” writes Washington Post columnist Sean Sullivan. “More likely, it’s a combination of time and recent political crises like Syria, NSA surveillance, glitches with the health-care law rollout, as well as the standoff over the budget.”
“Whatever the reason, it’s growing increasingly clear that Obama – for now at least – is no longer Mr. Popularity,” writes Sullivan.
The problem with such numbers is that they raise questions about Obama’s competence, writes Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, in the National Journal.
“Doubts about competence inflict damage, particularly if they are followed by other incidents that reinforce those doubts and by a vigilant opposition party flagging these miscues, as Republicans can be counted on to do here,” writes Cook, referring to problems with Obamacare and revelations of NSA spying on European leaders. “Doubts about competence eat at enthusiasm among your base and alienate the moderates and independents who are really the ones determining whether a president has strong job-approval ratings.”
Can Obama recover?
Second-term presidents usually have one lame-duck year to establish the perception of competence necessary to make that last term a success – something Obama has acknowledged.
That’s just a couple of months from now.
The Syrian hackers have been at it again.
For a few hours Monday, clicking on those links took readers not to the pages they were supposed to, but rather to a graphic 24-minute propaganda video on YouTube (since removed) apparently produced by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA).
The pro-Assad group later posted a screen shot of the hack, showing how it broke into the Gmail account of at least one staff member at Organizing for Action and from there was apparently able to alter the social-media links through ShortSwitch, a URL-shortening service.
The SEA claimed responsibility for the hacks, telling Mashable it was “showing the truth about Syria." It later posted on its Twitter account, "We accessed many Obama campaign emails accounts to assess his terrorism capabilities. They are quite high."
Quartz's Christopher Mims confirmed with the Obama campaign that the hack occurred. One of the staffers whose Gmail account was compromised told him that the campaign was taking extra security steps to prevent it from occurring again, including using Google's two-step authentication for log-ins.
It's hardly the first time the SEA has apparently infiltrated US accounts to spread propaganda. This year, it's been linked to cyberattacks on Time, The Washington Post, Twitter, the Associated Press, and The Onion, among others. In some cases, the SEA has hijacked Twitter accounts – in April, it sent out a false tweet about an explosion at the White House on the Associated Press Twitter feed – and more recently, it apparently infiltrated a third-party server used by multiple news agencies.
So far, the hacks mostly seem designed to spread propaganda and haven't caused lasting harm.
Increasingly, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's repressive government has been finding ways to use social media to its advantage, not just abroad but at home as well. After years of blocking social-media sites like Twitter and Facebook for its citizens, the government opened them back up as the Arab Spring swept through the region. A major reason: Mr. Assad's government has been able to crack down on dissidents and track activists through their activity on such sites.