Monday, August 23, 2010

A missed chance to quell the fanatics

by Clive Crook

Financial Times
August 22, 2010

How much trouble Barack Obama and the Democratic party are in as the US heads towards November’s elections is debatable, but few would deny that the past week has set their prospects back. The president may have hoped to calm the controversy over the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural centre near Ground Zero in Manhattan, but he inflamed it. His supporters have divided on the issue, with many accusing the larger part of the electorate of bigotry. This is not good.

The faltering economic recovery is Mr Obama’s and the Democrats’ main political liability, of course. When employment eventually revives, so will their popularity. Presidents later celebrated as great successes – such as Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan – had poll ratings worse than Mr Obama’s at this stage in their first terms and lost seats in Congress two years in.

The worry for the Democrats is that Mr Obama’s approval ratings may not have bottomed out and that his actions lately have made things worse. The needlessly extended controversy over the New York mosque is a case in point. At the very least, this was a missed opportunity for the kind of leadership Mr Obama is capable of exercising.