Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Behind the slide in Obama's poll numbers

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Tue June 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama's numbers have taken a hit, according to a new poll
  • Gloria Borger says the president must wonder how he got into this predicament
  • Obama decided to largely back Bush's surveillance policies, she says
  • Borger: Obama should lead the debate over security rather than just listen to it

(CNN) -- Since President Obama seems to be a reflective soul, he must be reflecting on the irony of his latest predicament: as the man who came into office promising to change everything and who instead seems to have let much of what he promised to fix only get worse.

First, the good news: Slowly but surely, the economy is coming back. And that's no small feat, given where it was in 2009.

Then, everything else: The constitutional scholar, civil libertarian and antiwar activist can't seem to wake up each day without some basic challenge to his political ecology. The confirmed presence of chemical weapons in Syria now makes some sort of escalation there inevitable, just as the war in Afghanistan winds down. (More military support for the rebels? No-fly zone?)

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

The newbie senator who railed against President George W. Bush's "warrantless wiretaps" is now defending his own version of government for-your-own-safety intrusion. ("No one is listening to your telephone calls.") He gives a speech defending drone strikes; he answers questions about the Justice Department's dragnet surveillance of media outlets in its leak investigations.

He might be forgiven for asking himself James Stockdale's infamous vice presidential debate questions: Who am I? And what am I doing here?

CNN poll: Obama numbers plunge into generation gap

Now all he has to do is answer them.

The president has -- rightly -- called for a public debate about the proper balance between national security and privacy. But the debate can't happen without him. In fact, he needs to lead it. That's what presidents are supposed to do when the country is having a national conversation. It's part of the job description.

Obama's declining approval rating

In the National Security Agency controversy, we've heard from the leaker, the director of the NSA, the director of national intelligence, the members of the intelligence committees. We heard a bit from the president, who seems to be saying, in effect, that "I'm glad you guys are talking about this, because we are going to have to make some tough choices as a society."

Here's what we know: The president entered office skeptical of the very programs he is now defending. But after vetting them and adding some additional protections, he now thinks they are important, even integral, to our self-defense. All of which makes sense to me personally. But it's hard to categorically decide something (especially when it affects you) without some more information. And if you're asking people to decide that Big Brother-ism in some form is OK -- and to trust that you are doing the right thing -- you've got to give them something to work with.

Remember when Bush said "I hope the American people trust me"? It turned out they didn't.

Obama bristles at suggestion he's shifted on snooping

In fact, the public's view of the Obama administration's handling of civil liberties is beginning to eerily resemble what the public thought about Bush: Forty-three percent in a new CNN/ORC poll say the administration has gone too far in restricting some civil liberties in order to fight terrorism. In 2006, 39% thought Bush had gone too far. That's the same Bush that then-Sen. Obama excoriated for the "warrantless wiretaps" in 2006.

But the worst news for the president is that he seems, at least right now, to be losing the benefit-of-the-doubt factor he has enjoyed because people think he's an honest guy who tries to do the right thing. The latest CNN/ORC polling shows that while 49% of Americans consider the president to be "honest and trustworthy," that's down 9 points -- in one month. And his approval rating has fallen 8 points to just 45%.

The unkindest drop, fueling the entire downward trend, comes from Obama's stalwarts, younger voters. A huge 17-point decline among the under-30 set has got to be some sort of wake-up call.

Now, I know this president doesn't like some parts of his job. He doesn't much like schmoozing members of Congress, despite his recent share-a-meal plan with assorted Capitol Hill types. He doesn't like the LBJ-style strong-arming, either. He doesn't much like the messy lawmaking process in which personal relationships can often mean the difference between getting what you want and getting nothing at all. And he doesn't ever like to be pushed. Ever. No-drama Obama, remember?

But he does like speeches. He likes writing them, redrafting them, pondering them. He likes giving them, too -- because he's good at it.

So speak. The American people need some quality time here. An interview or two, sure. Declassify some information about thwarted terror attacks that can be shared without compromising intelligence.

Let Americans in on the real secret they're puzzling: how this president has been affected by what he has seen from the Oval Office. Some may buy it; some may not. But letting us in on this secret is just part of the job.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 1:01 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT