It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.
That’s how Conan O’Brien put it in his immortal ‘People of Earth’ missive. You’ve got to imagine Barack Obama is thinking similar thoughts today. Yeah, Scott Brown’s ground-shifting victory in Massachusetts yesterday was to a great extent the unique result of (1) Ted Kennedy’s death, (2) Martha Coakley’s ineptitude and (3) Brown’s groovy GMC pickup truck. And the fact that it endangers the passage of health care legislation is mainly the fault of Congressional Democrats failing to get the job done in time.
Still, the deciding factor would seem to have been the state of the economy, and the sense that things are going terribly wrong in Washington. And while I’m a faithful reader of Reihan Salam, who sees thoughtful reasoning and good ol’ American values behind the electorate’s current rejectionist mood, I do wonder if there’s another explanation. Perhaps we’ve become a nation of thoughtless, impatient ninnies—goaded by thoughtless, impatient electronic media and craven politicians to change our minds so frequently that it’s impossible for our elected officials to ever get anything significant accomplished. George W. Bush got something of a reprieve in his first year in office because of the tragedy of 9/11, but Obama’s standing with the public seems to be in relentless decline, despite the fact that the nation’s economic difficulties can in no significant way be ascribed to him. I suspect that this has less to do with anything Obama has or hasn’t done than with unrealistic expectations and fickleness on the part of the American public, and a media culture that increasingly encourages such behavior. Now this fickleness—especially if the Republicans regain control of the House or Senate in this fall’s elections—could mean Obama’s popularity will be headed for a big rebound by the time he’s is up for reelection in 2012. But it seems like an awfully poor way to steer an organization.
Then again, it’s possible that there’s nothing new about this at all. It’s not as if, say, John Quincy Adams had it any easier.