You might not know it if you watch the BBC, but President Obama’s ratings have been underwater since last June. In late March, a YouGov poll put him at a 42 per cent approval rate. The Associated Press had him at 40 per cent.
That’s far above George W. Bush’s 2008 low of 25 per cent, but it’s also at – or below – Obama’s own previous worst. Unlike the Conservative Party, whose fortunes are reviving with Britain’s economy, Obama is not benefiting from the US’s modest recovery. Afghanistan is hardly at peace, but last month not a single US soldier was killed in action. That, too, has done nothing to lift Obama’s ratings.
And his political swoon comes at an awkward moment. In the November elections, 13 Senate seats are seriously in play. Of these, nine are Democratic.
One reason for the President’s slide is simple: his signature legislative achievement, Obamacare, is more unpopular than ever. In a recent Associated Press poll, it scored a record low 26 per cent approval. That was an outlier – the average is 40 per cent – but Obama’s rating turned negative last summer when opinion spiked against Obamacare.
In my experience, Britons finds it hard to understand why Americans dislike Obamacare. That’s partly because the steady drumbeat of bad news about it – from cancelled insurance policies, to rising costs – is not well-reported in Britain.
But after a two-week visit to Britain in March, my conclusion is that the reason for Britain’s lack of comprehension is simple: in Britain, many people appear to believe that Obamacare is like the NHS, and can’t understand why Americans don’t want an NHS of their own.
In fact, I don’t want any such thing. But even if I did, Obamacare is not like the NHS. It’s about insurance, not health care. As Obamacare is proving, blowing up the insurance market has no connection to putting a pill in your mouth or a jab in your arm.
Obamacare is thus both disruptive and irrelevant, hardly a popular combination. And the more that combination comes into view, the more it is disliked. Much the same is true of what in the United States is described as immigration reform, which, even though it is advanced by liberals, has nothing to do with making the working class better off and a lot to do with helping the metropolitan elite.
In a special Congressional election last month in Florida, the Democratic candidate Alex Sink sank after she asked where, without immigration reform, “are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping?” One answer: the millions of unemployed and discouraged people already legally resident in the United States.
The New York Times, for its part, ran a long sob story about how California’s farmers need “a more reliable labour supply,” i.e. more poorly-paid vegetable pickers. Just so you know: the unemployment rate in semi-socialist California in February was eight per cent. Sink’s argument has a long, ignoble parallel in Britain. Recall Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” comment in Rochdale before the last election. Or there was Labour adviser Andrew Neather’s 2009 confession that mass immigration is “not simply a matter of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners – although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them”.
As Neather snidely put it, no one in the elite wants a “fascist au pair” from Barking. It’s no wonder that Ukip is riding a wave of scepticism about immigration and the political establishment.
But the real wonder is that Obama’s foreign policy is dragging him down. It’s conventional wisdom that, except during moments of crisis, foreign policy does not much matter to the President’s popularity. A year ago, Obama’s highest Gallup rankings were on foreign affairs. But by February, a majority of Americans believed the world’s leaders had little respect for the US president. In late March, CBS found that only 36 per cent of Americans approved of his foreign policy. Even Obamacare is more popular.
Robert Kagan, the neo-conservative commentator, argues that while Americans want a non-interventionist foreign policy, they’re not proud of “leading from behind”. By contrast, conservative blogger Paul Mirengoff believes that Obama promised results – i.e. a world at peace and an America beloved – that Americans wanted, but which he has not delivered.
For my part, I’m struck by the peaceful streets of Europe. In 2003, as the Iraq War approached, hundreds of thousands protested.
Today, after Russia has gulped down Crimea, there is not a peep. The protesters weren’t against the prospect of war as such; they just had a soft spot for dictators and a prejudice against the United States that they don’t feel against Russia.
And that’s what Americans see in Putin: a Russian autocrat with a desire to overturn the verdict of the Cold War. His actions have shown that Obama’s words abroad, like his policies at home, are irrelevant to the problems at hand. Americans want a president who commands respect. Nothing is less worthy of respect than irrelevancy.
- Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in Anglo-American Relations, based at The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation in Washington.