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 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT