I think one reason that President Obama’s job approval ratings have fallen over recent months is that his actions often indicate that he and his staff simply do not pay attention to the basics. When the nuts and bolts appear to be neglected, questions about competence and credibility inevitably will arise.
Consider the President’s recent jobs proposal. He used a repeated “pass this bill right away” mantra in his speech to reflect the urgency of the unemployment problem. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously — for people outside the Beltway, the lack of jobs is an urgent problem and has been an urgent problem for years. Unfortunately, the President’s ability to effectively convey that urgency is undercut by his not having a bill drafted, and introduced by congressional allies, on the day he gave the speech. Even now, days later, the “jobs bill” still has not been finally reduced to writing, much less introduced in either House of Congress. Similarly, despite the President’s statement that the jobs bill is fully paid for, the legislation to achieve that result also has not been drafted or introduced.
Whatever your position may be on the merits of the President’s jobs proposals, these failures are self-inflicted wounds that hurt the chances that the President’s proposals will pass. By saying “pass this bill right away” when no bill exists, the President is handing opponents an obvious, easily understood “talking point” response. More fundamentally, the President’s failure to have actual bills at the ready also demonstrates a certain tone-deafness. In two prior legislative battles, on the initial “stimulus” package and the President’s health care proposal, the actual drafting of the legislation was an afterthought, whereas any American who ever watched Schoolhouse Rock knows that the bill should be the first step in the process. The stimulus package and the health care legislation turned out to be sprawling monstrosities with special-interest provisions buried in hundreds of pages of legislative text, passed without adequate scrutiny. The President’s failure to have a written jobs plan bill already written and available for public review just raises the prospect of the same flawed process being followed again — with special interests busily working, even now, to get their pet provisions included.
The fact that President Obama has done this, again, when a different course easily could have been followed this time suggests either that he and his staff have not learned from their earlier mistakes — or that they don’t even consider them to be mistakes. I’m not sure which of those two scenarios is more harmful to his standing with American voters.