Steve Chapman

Everyone elected president comes into office modeling himself on some predecessor: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan. But those who win re-election eventually end up wondering whether they should have emulated James K. Polk instead. Why? Because he promised to serve only one term, and he stuck to it.

Barack Obama is probably reaching that stage about now. Ten months after concluding a victorious campaign, he finds himself with a public approval rating of 44 percent. That's down 10 points since December -- and the same as that of George W. Bush at this point in his presidency.

Obama's threat to attack Syria has put him at odds with Congress and the public. By last weekend, The Washington Post reported that "a majority of House members are now on the record as either against or leaning against authorizing President Obama to use military force."

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on the eve of his Tuesday TV address found that only 28 percent of Americans approved of his handling of the matter. Public support for the proposed attack, says Gallup, is lower than for any U.S. war in the past two decades.

The numbers reflect a couple of facts that are largely beyond his control. The first is that after 12 years of nonstop fighting in distant lands, Americans are sick of war. The second is that after nearly five years of watching him in the White House, many are also tired of Obama.

This is a common consequence of protracted exposure. Most TV series don't last more than five years -- and TV series don't air seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. There have been several new iPhone models since Obama was first elected. If you bought a suit or a dress five years ago, it's no longer the epitome of fashion.

Facing the aftermath of re-election is a challenge for the people in the administration, as well as the people they serve. Top aides burn out or cash in, leaving the White House to find replacements, who may not enjoy the same trust or access. Presidents run out of ideas. If they have any left over, they're even less likely to be able to get them through the second time around.

Scandals also have a tendency to erupt in the second term, and the IRS targeting of tea party groups arrived this year right on schedule. All this comes before the midterm congressional elections, which typically bring losses to the party in the White House. Republicans are expected to enlarge their House majority and could capture the Senate.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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