For Obama, NPR is turning into the Happy Talk Network. First, there was the stunning headline “Healthcare.gov Could Have Been Worse.” On Thursday’s Morning Edition, the headline was “Why Obama Shouldn’t Worry About Lousy Poll Numbers.”
NPr headlines in the Bush years were in a different spirit, such as this beaut: “Naomi Wolf Likens Bush to Hitler.” The happy talker on this forget-lousy-polls story was NPR’s Ari Shapiro, who just left the Obama White House beat:
SHAPIRO: A popular president can often get his agenda through Congress.
KEVIN MADDEN, GOP strategist: Right now, the president is unpopular, so his low poll numbers have made dealing with an already challenging Congress that much more of a difficult task.
SHAPIRO: But look back at what happened when the president was popular. Just after reelection, Obama's approval rating was above 50 percent. He pushed immigration and gun-control policies that had a lot of public support, and neither bill made it through Congress. Obama expressed his fury at the gun bill's failure during an emotional event in the White House Rose Garden.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn't do this. It came down to politics.
SHAPIRO: Ann Selzer runs a nonpartisan polling firm in Iowa. She says you can say this for Obama: The guy's consistent.
ANN SELZER: He has problems when his poll numbers are high in terms of getting legislation passed, and problems when his poll numbers are low.
SHAPIRO: So it's not as though hitting rock-bottom will suck the momentum out of Obama's legislative agenda. It didn't have momentum in the first place.
Let that sentence I emphasized sink in. Don't feel bad, Obama. You haven't had any momentum in this second term any way! Then came the more predictable argument that the popularity of Congress (as a whole) is lower than the president's.
SHAPIRO: Congressional Republican numbers are so far down into the single digits, that Obama's approval rating actually looks good by comparison. This could be important for the 2014 elections. Typically, in a midterm, the president's party loses seats. Nobody's sure what will happen this time. Democrats would have to gain 17 seats to take back the House of Representatives.
MARY ANN MARSH: Independent voters, more than anybody, are really fed up with the Republicans.
SHAPIRO: Mary Anne Marsh is a Democratic strategist in Boston.
MARSH: For the first time in, I think, modern history, you have polls out there that show that almost 65 percent of all voters want to get rid of their member of Congress. That has never been the case.
SHAPIRO: She believes that number could be more important than Obama's favorability number.
Here's another unique fact about Congress right now: Today, there are fewer swing districts than at almost any time in history. Most places are solid red or blue. In those districts, it doesn't much matter how popular or unpopular the president is.
Shapiro concluded that at least Obama’s ratings haven’t varied much: “Although Obama is at a low point right now, his approval rating really has not varied that much. It bounces from the low 50s to around 40. In contrast, President George W. Bush had a high of 90 percent approval and a low of 25 percent.”
And finally: “There is, of course, one other reason presidents chase high approval ratings: to win reelection. As Obama often tells audiences, that is not something he ever has to worry about again.”