Obama Undermines His Own Credibility

Scott Rasmussen is at the peak of the polling industry having been one of, if not the most, accurate predictor of the last presidential election. It is pretty straightforward for anyone to conduct a poll, but to adjust polls properly for how many Democrats and Republicans or how many likely voters there are in the sample, is either a very sophisticated science or an art. Rasmussen has been tracking the standing of President Barack Obama with likely voters since the inauguration.

Obama came into office with a 65% approval rating among likely voters, with 44% percent strongly approving. Rasmussen has been trying to estimate the passion behind approval or disapproval by also tracking the difference between those who “strongly approve” and those who “strongly disapprove.” When Obama became president, this index was at +28%. Clearly Obama came into office as a very popular figure, even for a freshly minted president.

Since then, his approval rating has steadily dwindled. Among likely voters, the total approval or disapproval rating is about 50-50, just as many people approve of Obama’s job performance as disapprove. However, the passion has definitely shifted toward those who disapprove. The difference between those who strongly approve shifted negative somewhere in June 2009, now hovers at about -10% though it fluctuates daily in the Rasmussen poll.

A general decline is to be expected. Some of this has been due to a worsening unemployment rate, now far higher than Obama promised when arguing for his stimulus package. As always, to govern is to decide. To decide is to make some people angry with your policies. Obama has been able to pass or at least propose very consequential legislation, from the stimulus package, to cap-and-trade, to medical care (now insurance) reform. There will be winners and losers as a result. This would explain a drop in Obama’s approval rating and an increase in those who strongly disapprove. However, there has been no parallel increase in those who strongly approve.

Allow me to respectfully suggest that this may be due in part to the fact Obama’s early mountain of credibility has been continuously eroded by the flow of his own words. A case a point is his argument that there is no intention for the “public option” for health insureance to be used as a wedge to create a single-payer system for health care. In this prime-time speech on health insurance reform, he said: “Now, my health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a `government takeover’ of the entire health care system… So let me set the record straight here. My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. That’s how the market works.”

However, neither supporters of the President or others believe this. Congressman Barney Frank and others have spoken candidly about using the public option as a wedge for a single-payer system. The only thing that seems to unite those who support the President’s health insurance reform  and those who oppose it, is the conviction that a public option will inevitably lead to a single-payer system roughly analogous to Canada’s or England’s. Most realize that if the President was focused solely on more competition, he could simply urge the removal of  cross-state barriers to health insurance competition. The government could mandate the publication of doctors and hospital prices and institute health care savings accounts to increase competition in the health care and health insurance market. Very few people believe the public option is really about competition.

Obama supporters are forced to quickly glide by the president’s words and rationalize them as a way to get the health insurance reform bills passed in the current political environment. Supporters are left with a disappointment that Obama does not make the open case for the type of reform they want. Others are provided further evidence of duplicity. The president cannot  maintain his credibility if neither his supporters or opponents believe his words. If Obama and the Democrats cannot  make the open case for the reform they want — a single payer system —by being honest about it then in a society ruled by the assent of the governed, it should not pass.



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