The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan was probably right last week when she wrote that "nobody loves Obama" anymore. In last week's Gallup poll, the president's approval rating dropped to a George W. Bush-like 40 percent. While Obama probably still has at least a 50-50 chance of winning re-election next fall, if he does, it'll be a narrow, anticlimactic win over an even less-loved rival, like impeccably credentialed but universally underwhelming former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
As Obama joylessly ended weeks of partisan fighting by signing a budget bill that avoids a credit default but barely cuts the national debt and does nothing in the way of tax reform, nearly every constituency — left, right and center — has found a reason to loathe both the new law and Obama.
On the left, New York Times economist Paul Krugman thinks that Obama "surrendered," and the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel decries the president's "eagerness" to please the Tea Party. On the right, the Journal's Bret Stephens writes that Hillary Clinton "would have made a better president," and Fox News' Mike Huckabee calls Obama's role in the episode "amateur hour."
It's clear that whether it's in 2012 or 2016, by the time Obama leaves the White House, you'll have to look hard to find anyone who still loves him. But almost everyone will miss him when he's gone.
If you're a progressive, and someone told you three years ago that after the nation elected its first black president, he'd enact universal health coverage, triple the number of women on the Supreme Court, do away with Bill Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, end major combat operations in Iraq, rescue the U.S. auto industry and declare an end to torture at Guantánamo Bay — even if he couldn't shut the place down — that's a deal you would have taken.
If you're a conservative, and someone told you three years ago that eight weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, Obama would be elected and then enact Mitt Romney's health coverage plan, make lemonade out of the hated TARP bailout, implement a payroll tax holiday, extend the Bush-era tax cuts and nurse the Dow Jones industrial average back from the 7,000s to the 12,000s — all on the way to killing Osama bin Laden — that's a deal that you would have taken.
If you're one of those wishy-washy, fence-straddling moderates (also known as everyone else in America), and you'd been told three years ago that at the apex of his presidency, Obama would stand still for a political kneecapping over raising the debt ceiling — something Congress did for Ronald Reagan 18 times — so that you could go out tomorrow and still find yourself a low-interest car, home or student loan if you needed one, that's a deal you would have taken, too.
But by now it should be clear to progressives that Obama is no longer the young, multiracial Hawaiian senator from Chicago that he used to be. And it should be clear to conservatives that he's not the "dithering" socialist that they thought he'd turn out to be — he's the president of the United States. With few exceptions — from the Gulf oil spill to the Arab Spring — he's done what any of his recent predecessors or likely successors would have done. Heck, he's doing what George Washington would have done.
Did he get rolled in the debt-ceiling fight? Maybe. Should he have started negotiations with a 1-to-1 ratio of revenues to cuts so he could eventually get the 1-to-3 ratio he really wanted? Possibly. Or were congressional Republicans unwilling to take any deal that didn't break Obama's back? Definitely. How do you know? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said back in November that his top priority this year was to make Obama a one-term president.
He might succeed.
On Obama's watch, America clearly hasn't been transformed. But at a time of great peril, it hasn't fallen apart, either. The president has made compromise after unsatisfying compromise, and from here on in, every day, he'll be telling us to "eat our peas." If he gets four more years, it'll be more of the same.
If his tenure comes to an end, the task of finding a graceful exit from Afghanistan while defending the modern welfare state against the Tea Party will fall to the "grown-up" Republicans like Sen. John McCain, Romney, McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner — as Obama rides off into the sunset.
And your first reaction might be something like, "Oh, well. Nobody loves Obama anymore."
That's true. But a lot of folks will miss him when he's gone.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.