Thursday, February 5, 2009

President Obama's Pitfalls

Remember the times before Barack Obama’s inauguration when pundits and typical everyday folks alike were all wondering—and vociferously debating—how long the 44th U.S. President’s honeymoon would last? Yesterday, it seems, everyone found out the answer.

Opinion polls have shown Mr. Obama’s approval rating, while still high, has fallen from 66% to 61% on February 4—a day after two more resignations were announced from Mr. Obama’s cabinet: first by Tom Daschle, later by Nancy Killefer. The former couldn’t have hurt Mr. Obama more, as Mr. Daschle, the Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, was an ostensibly indispensible part of the President’s key staff. The departure of Ms. Killefer, while considered for a lower-tier role as a “spring cleaner” of sorts (designated with overseeing government programs for waste and other minutiae), only added to the consternation felt at the White House on Tuesday. The reason for both resignations is tax evasion, although whether such actions were accidental or intentional is still a moot point. All this is in addition to the resignation of Bill Richardson before Mr. Obama’s inauguration a fortnight ago, sparked by an ongoing investigation dating back to purported behavior during his days as former governor of New Mexico.

Even more unfortunate is that these resignations could not have come at a worse time, when Congress is mulling a nearly $1 trillion stimulus package while the economy is deteriorating by the day. Such distractions—while Democrats are embarrassed just as the Republicans are furtively celebrating—do not augur well for constructive debates, to be sure. Neither does the new joke that is making rounds around Capitol Hill: “Why are Democrats always for raising taxes? Because they don’t pay any!”

But most ominous of all, perhaps, is that Mr. Obama’s rating is now just about the same as George W. Bush’s was at the same stage of his first term. He must surely be hoping for a quick reversal of this trajectory—and wishing that the blip made while initially uttering the presidential oath does not portend precisely such rueful stumbles ahead.

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