The Anti-Rally Effect

In After Hope and Changewe suggested that the president’s second term might be difficult.

The rally effect, explain Mark Hetherington and Michael Nelson.
is the sudden and substantial increase in public approval of the president that occurs in response to certain kinds of dramatic international events involving the United States.”  But not only is the rally effect absent in the ISIS crisis, but opinion seems to be going in the other direction.

The New York Times reports:

For the first time in his presidency, more Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of terrorism than approve of it, as discontent about his management of foreign affairs and the fight against Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria weighs on an anxious and conflicted public, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

As Mr. Obama broadens the military offensive against Islamic extremists, the survey finds broad support for United States airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but it also demonstrates how torn Americans are about wading back into battle in the Middle East. A majority is opposed to committing ground forces there, amid sweeping concern that increased American participation will lead to a long and costly mission.

With midterm elections approaching, Americans’ fears about a terrorist attack on United States soil are on the rise, and the public is questioning Mr. Obama’s strategy for combating the militant organization calling itself the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Most respondents say the president has no clear plan for confronting the group, and that he has not been tough enough in dealing with it.

18 September 2014 ·

Declining Trust

In After Hope and Change, we discuss declining trust in the president. As other posts have noted, he made promises that he could not keep

The decline in trust goes beyond POTUS.

Gallup reports:

Americans’ trust in the three branches of the federal government is collectively lower than at any point in the last two decades. Although trust in the executive branch was lower during the Watergate era, the erosion of trust at that time was limited to that branch. Today, less than a majority trust the executive and legislative branches, and judicial trust, though still high on a relative basis, is the lowest Gallup has measured.

The frustration with government is also evident in near-historical-low job approval ratings for Congress, below-average job approval ratings for Obama, and Americans’ consistently ranking the government itself as one of themost important problems facing the country.

16 September 2014 ·

A Tale of Two Pivots

In After Hope and Changewe suggested that the president’s second term might be difficult.

A National Journal, George E. Condon writes of President Obama’s ISIS speech:

Nothing better captured the White House’s desperation to get out its economic story than the little domestic detour the president took in Wednesday’s address to the nation. For 10 minutes he made a strong appeal for national unity behind his fight against terrorists. Then, abruptly, he added, “Our technology companies and universities are unmatched. Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history.”

In his first term, he also used a televised address on Iraq to pivot to the economy.

On September 7, 2010, Mark A. Thiessen wrote in The Washington Post:

Years ago, Gary Larson published a Far Side cartoon called “what dogs hear.” Two identical panels, side-by-side, showed a man speaking to his dog, Ginger. In the first, the man tells the dog: “Okay, Ginger! I’ve had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger?” In the second, we see what the dog actually hears: “Blah, blah, GINGER.” For the terrorists, President Obama’s Oval Office address last week came across much the same way. While the president made some obligatory references to our responsibilities in the war on terror, what our enemies heard were his declarations that America is withdrawing and refocusing on domestic priorities.

On Iraq, the president said, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” But what our enemies heard was that in Iraq “we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page,” and his unequivocal pledge that “all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” This was music to the ears of Islamic extremists from the caves of Waziristan to the palaces of Tehran.

14 September 2014 ·

"Betraying the Constitution he swore to uphold"

In After Hope and Changewe suggested that the president’s second term might be difficult.  Even Yale’s Bruce Ackerman has turned against him.

President Obama’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.

Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written.


Mr. Obama may rightly be frustrated by gridlock in Washington, but his assault on the rule of law is a devastating setback for our constitutional order. His refusal even to ask the Justice Department to provide a formal legal pretext for the war on ISIS is astonishing.

In taking this step, Mr. Obama is not only betraying the electoral majorities who twice voted him into office on his promise to end Bush-era abuses of executive authority. He is also betraying the Constitution he swore to uphold.

14 September 2014 ·

"The President does not have power under the Constitution…"

IAfter Hope and Change, we contrast the promises of the 2008 Obama campaign and transition with the reality of governing.

The president has reversed himself many times.

On Wednesday, a senior administration official said that ”the President has constitutional and statutory authority to direct U.S. military airstrike operations to deal with the threat posed by ISIL.”

On December 20, 2007, the Boston Globe reported Senator Obama’s response to a question about war powers:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

13 September 2014 ·

The ISIS Speech

In After Hope and Changewe suggested that the president’s second term might be difficult.

At The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead writes that he is now launching military action in Iraq — something he promised to end.  His 9/10 speec, however, was full of qualifiers.

But the most disconcerting element in the speech was that even now, six years into the job, President Obama still doesn’t know how to avoid telegraphing weakness even as he seeks to project strength. By making such a point about “no ground troops”, the President did two very bad things. First, he reduced the enemy’s uncertainty about our intentions. Second, he gave a global impression that he needed to promise “no ground troops” to the American people because he thinks that otherwise his political position is so weak that he couldn’t get support for an air war.

This is a bad mistake: it suggests to our enemies that our resolve is shaky. Even and especially if that is true, we don’t want to tell them this. The message the President actually delivered, which is not at all the message he wanted to send, is that America is heading into this conflict irresolute, divided, and more bent on limiting its involvement than on achieving its goals. Even a marginally competent enemy knows how to read that signal. 

12 September 2014 ·

"Everything Came Across as Politically Calculated"

In After Hope and Change, we contrast the promises of the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns  with the reality of governing.

In a debate with Mitt Romney, the president said:

But when it comes to our military, what we have to think about is not just budgets. We’ve got think about capabilities. We need to be thinking about cybersecurity. We need to be thinking about space. That’s exactly what our budget does, but it’s driven by strategy. It’s not driven by politics. It’s not driven by Members of Congress and what they would like to see. It’s driven by what are we going to need to keep the American people safe. That’s exactly what our budget does.

At National Journal, Josh Kraushaar writes:

Looking at the Obama administration’s foreign policy more broadly, it’s striking how much politics seeped into critical decision-making processes. In his memoir, Obama’s former Defense Secretary Robert Gates chided his old boss that “everything came across as politically calculated” from his time in the administration. The president cynically increased the number of troops in Afghanistan upon taking office, only to draw them down as an election year approached. The complete withdrawal of American troops in Iraq, which created a vacuum that’s now being filled by ISIS, was driven as much by a desire to fulfill a campaign promise as borne out of sound policy.

Foreign policy and immigration are entirely separate issues, but the president’s handling of immigration is another example of how his administration has been hampered by an in-the-moment reading of public opinion over big-picture strategy. The White House has long been convinced that immigration is kryptonite for the Republican Party, with the issue dividing the GOP while giving Democrats the opportunity to lock in permanent support from Hispanic voters. In June, the president was so confident about his standing on the issue that he proudly declared he would act on his own, since the Republican-controlled House wouldn’t follow his lead. “If Congress won’t do their job, at least we can do ours,” he said.

11 September 2014 ·

Out of Kilter

In After Hope and Change, we contrast the high hopes for Obama with the reality of governing.  Before and after his reelection campaign, for instance, he repeatedly claimed to have ended the war in Iraq.

Peter Baker writes at The New York Times:

When President Obama addresses the nation on Wednesday to explain his plan to defeat Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, it is a fair bet he will not call them the “JV team.”

Nor does he seem likely to describe Iraq as “sovereign, stable and self-reliant” with a “representative government.” And presumably he will not assert after more than a decade of conflict that “the tide of war is receding.”

As he seeks to rally Americans behind a new military campaign in the Middle East, Mr. Obama finds his own past statements coming back to haunt him. Time and again, he has expressed assessments of the world that in the harsh glare of hindsight look out of kilter with the changed reality he now confronts.

10 September 2014 ·

Even More than Bush, Obama is a Divider, Not a Uniter

In After Hope and Change, we talk about the contrast of the hopeful, unifying tone of early Obama rhetoric, and the divisive reality of his administration.

AT ABC, Gary Langer reports on a new poll:

In general assessments, moreover, Americans by a 17-point margin say Obama has done more to divide than to unite the country, a rating worse than George W. Bush’s early in his poorly rated second term – and one that’s deteriorated among Obama’s supporters as well as among his critics. Just 43 percent call Obama a strong leader, down 11 points in the past year to the fewest of his presidency. And his overall job approval rating, at 42 percent, is a point from its all-time low this spring.

9 September 2014 ·

"The President’s Latest Broken Promise"

In After Hope and Change, we discuss disappointment with the president. As other posts have noted, he made promises that he could not keep

Michael Shear reports at The New York Times:

President Obama will delay taking executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections, bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats who feared that acting now could doom his party’s chances this fall, White House officials said on Saturday.

The decision is a reversal of Mr. Obama’s vow to issue broad directives to overhaul the immigration system soon after summer’s end, and sparked swift anger from immigration advocates. The president made the promise on June 30, in the Rose Garden, where he angrily denounced Republican obstruction and said he would use the power of his office to protect immigrant families from the threat of deportation.

“Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” a White House official said. “Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.”

Cristina Jimenez, the managing director for United We Dream, an immigration advocacy group, accused Mr. Obama of “playing politics” with the lives of immigrant families and said, “The president’s latest broken promise is another slap to the face of the Latino and immigrant community.”

7 September 2014 ·

About This Blog

This blog supplements our book: James W. Ceaser, Andrew E. Busch, and John J. Pitney, Jr., After Hope and Change: the 2012 Elections and American Politics (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012).