A Double-Edged Sword

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Jul 22, 2009 9:56 AM
Politico's Carol E. Lee points out that as Democrats try to sell health care reform legislation, Americans are getting a big dose of President Obama.

That makes sense, given that the President is more popular than his policies.  But how long will that last?  Sure, people may like the President personally, but part of what constitutes a President's popularity is public respect for him and his goals.  And those, it seems to me, are rapidly shrinking.

As the economy continues to tank -- and as the argument increasingly can be made that Obama's policies are actually preventing improvement -- it's going to be increasingly hard for The White House to combat a sense among voters that Obama may be a nice enough young guy, but he's an ivory-tower lefty who has no clue about what he's doing.  That's when all the formerly cute stories about The White House dog, the date nights and Mrs. Obama's fashions will stop being cute and start being cloying.

In a very real sense, the President is in a race against time.  His personal pleas for health care are assets with rapidly diminishing returns.  His challenge now is to gauge how to use his remaining popularity sparingly enough so that he doesn't weary voters of seeing him but at the same time frequently enough so that he can exploit whatever personal popularity remains (before a still-lagging economy saps it entirely).

Not an easy challenge.  Personal popularity can be a double-edged sword; to mix metaphors a bit, those who are swept into office on a tide of personal adulation have lots farther to fall among the public when disillusionment sets in.