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Searching for Bottom: Why Everybody Had a Bad Week

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
— “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst

By now it is old news that the President of the United States is in a deep political hole, with daylight growing ever farther away. He doesn’t have gum in his hair yet, but it’s doubtful the White House would admit it if he did.

Good moments for President Obama never seem to last for very long. Wasn’t it only a week ago that liberals were cheering his jobs speech to Congress? Also, the bad moments seem closely spaced. On a single morning this week, he woke up to newspaper front pages crammed with what can only be charitably called challenges.

  • Attacks in Afghanistan weeks after the new Secretary of Defense declared the Taliban a virtual dead letter.

  • Reports about whether the White House pressured its own budget advisers to support a solar energy firm that later collapsed.

  • A GOP upset win of a traditionally Democratic House seat – an unforced error brought on by the Anthony Weiner scandal.

Plus, there was news that the economic slowdown has turned into clear-cut recession for the one out of six Americans living under the poverty line—-defined as a family of four that makes less than $22,314 a year.

This is not just bad political news. It is bad substantive news that makes the politics even more difficult. That’s why the president gave five speeches in a week pushing his jobs plan. And that’s why Republicans signaled initial cooperation, then steadily backed away as the days passed.

First the bipartisan super-committee that was supposed to come to grips with deficit reduction began its meetings this week by almost immediately retreating into partisan corners.

Then, House Speaker John Boehner delivered a speech Thursday in which he rejected the president’s proposal for short-term tax credits – dismissed by Republicans as tax increases. He called for tax reform instead.

All are taking close note of a raft of new polls that show Americans not just pessimistic about politics, but depressed about the nation’s direction as well. It’s not just that folks don’t have jobs; it’s that they have a hard time believing they ever will.

A new national poll conducted by Bloomberg News shows how profoundly gloomy Americans have become.

More than half of those polled say they don’t think the president’s new jobs plan will create jobs. They like the part of the bill that would send new money to state and local governments, but are split about the idea of cutting payroll taxes.

But they are deeply unhappy with about everything else Washington – and this president – has had to do or say about the economy. Even lacking a primary challenge, this presents new problems for Mr. Obama as he prepares to defend himself against the feisty Republicans who are debating each other as often as they can, but mostly bashing him.

The independents who helped boost the Democrats four years ago appear to be disillusioned. And although Republican candidates are happy to wave the incumbent’s record like a partisan bloody flag, the President is getting incoming fire from his own partisans as well.

“Obama has thirteen months to persuade voters that they should blame not him but the GOP for his presidency’s shortcomings,” the liberal magazine The Nation editorialized this week. “He has much less time to convince the thousands of activists nationwide–who do the grunt work of getting out the vote–that he’s worth their sweat and sacrifices one more time.” If he fails, the editors concluded, he will have no one to blame for himself.

On the other hand, the Bloomberg poll shows most Americans – 45 percent of those surveyed – blame Republicans for the gridlock, while 39 percent blame Democrats. On the other hand, as Bloomberg also pointed out, no U.S. president since World War II – with the one exception of Ronald Reagan in 1984 — has won re-election when the U.S. jobless rate is over 6 percent.

Think 9.1 percent, where the unemployment rate stands today, and you understand why, for this president, it might be easier getting gum out of his hair.

Gwen’s Take is cross-posted with the website of Washington Week, which airs Friday night on many PBS stations. Check your local listings.
File photo of President Obama by Getty Images.

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