A presidential rebound?
So here’s what we know: The president’s job-approval rating is back up again, higher than it’s been in months.
And here’s what we don’t know: Why?
There are plenty of theories, of course, and here at the Punditocracy Clearinghouse, we’ve been busy little beavers, trying to catalog each and every one of them. If Barack Obama has made it back to the magic 50 percent mark—as he did in the Gallup poll just this week—there’s a perfectly good reason for it, right? Or even two perfectly good reasons for it.
Or even two perfectly good contradictory reasons for it.
“Barack Obama is up in the polls because he showed he was willing to compromise.”
And for that matter…
“Barack Obama is up in the polls because he showed he was willing to fight.”
So allow me to offer a third reason:
“Barack Obama is up in the polls because he showed he was willing to disappear.”
You laugh. Don’t. Instead, consider the evidence.
Think back, first of all, to the closing days of the 111th Congress, when—and the pundits were perfectly sure about this, weren’t they?—nothing of significance was possibly going to be accomplished. Not in a lame-duck session.
Well, maybe a tax-cut deal—the Democrats and the GOP might be able to put together some kind of deal on tax cuts—but certainly nothing else.
Like, for instance, a big new food-safety bill. Or a new nuclear-arms treaty with Russia. Or the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Or health care for 9/11 first responders. Or…
Amazingly productive, actually. And if the tax-cut deal was all about the president and his fellow Dems making concessions, the other wins were all about the president and his fellow Dems standing firm and even making the Republicans squirm a little.
(Note: Threatening to work right up to Christmas constitutes “making the Republicans squirm” these days. Hell—these days, insisting on working nights and weekends constitutes “making the Republicans squirm.”)
Anyway: There were all these achievements—some through compromise and some through steadfastness, but achievements nonetheless. Which would certainly mean—or at least the pundits knew it would mean—an immediate bump in the polls. An Obama bump.
Except that there wasn’t. Not in the first round of polls, anyway. The president’s numbers sat pretty much where they’d been sitting, in the mid-40s.
“Where’s the bounce?” the pundits fretted. “There should have been a bounce.”
It wasn’t until a week later that the bounce showed up: Obama at 50 percent job approval, the first time he’d been over the hump (well, at the hump, anyway) since way back last spring.
You want theories to explain the delay? We’ve got theories:
“People were distracted by the holidays—they weren’t focused on Washington.”
And for that matter…
“People were focused enough on Washington, but it took time for the magnitude of the accomplishments to sink into the public mind.” (Think lemonade leaching into concrete.)
So how about a third theory?
What if it wasn’t anything Obama did in December, but everything he stopped doing?
He left town. He went on vacation, to Hawaii. And not just on vacation, but on a curtains-drawn, virtually-no-public-sightings vacation. He hung out with friends and family. He hit the gym. He played basketball and golf. He read novels. (Novels!) He demanded no attention. He gave no speeches. He made no news.
That’s when his numbers went up!
Is there a lesson there? “The public likes you more when they see you less”?
Could it also be a lesson for certain other government officials, whose numbers are way, way lower than Obama’s? Too early to say—but we definitely need more research.
Maybe if we shipped Congress off to an island…
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.