The Rasmussen poll during the weekend asked a key question designed to give us perspective on Obama's popularity. The question was whether the problems now "are due to the recession that began under the Bush administration or to the policies Obama has put in place since taking office."
In other words, who's to blame, Bush or Obama?
By 62-27 percent, voters say Bush is still the culprit, according to May 30-31 poll.
As long as this opinion remains prevalent, Obama will continue to enjoy high popularity. But when it changes, as it inevitably must, we will see him begin a long, long fall.
And this is the key measurement to watch.
The real recession — dating from the stock market collapse — began four months before Bush left office. And it is now four months since Obama was inaugurated. From this vantage point, it still looks to voters like Bush's recession.
But it will become increasingly obvious that the large deficit Obama has incurred while pursuing his cure for the recession is, on its own, causing more problems than it solves. As high interest rates and, most likely, inflation, begin to set in, with no relief in unemployment, it will be obvious that Obamanomics isn't working and is, in fact, aggravating the economic trouble.
Obama, recognizing the danger, has begun to speak out recently, without even cracking a guilty smile, against the huge budget deficit he created. He is trying to blame the deficit, too, on Bush.
But voters will not overlook the huge spending sprees of January and February, when Obama quadrupled the 2009 deficit. They will come to see that spending as a huge mistake and will shift their blame to the new president who proposed it.
Obama now faces a choice of poisons.
He can leave taxes as they are and take the poison of high interest rates, rapid inflation and a new recession, all caused by the massive borrowing he has forced on the Treasury. If the Treasury cannot sell enough bonds at a reasonable interest rate, it will, of course "monetize the deficit" — economics-speak for printing money so there will be enough to buy the Treasury debt at moderate interest rates.
But the process of expanding the money supply so vastly (or even just leaving the expansion in place without trying to soak up the extra money) will cause its own runaway inflation.
Or Obama can break his pledge and raise taxes on everybody. His soak-the-rich approach will not be enough to cover the deficit. Especially when one factors in his healthcare proposals, big tax increases on the middle class become an increasing likelihood. And when we consider his cap-and-trade legislation, huge increases in utility rates also loom.
Either poison will make it clear that the economy is suffering from the medicine Obama administered, rather than the original disease that started under Bush.
And, of course, while we cannot predict precisely the start date of the Obama-generated misery, it's pretty clear that it will be a long-lasting pain. Neither inflation nor the pain of higher taxes is going to go away soon. And either approach probably will kindle a new recession.
Some economists think we will have an L-shaped recession from which we do not emerge for years and years. Others think it will be a W-shaped recession (not Bush's W) in which we emerge briefly and then go back down again. But a U-shaped recession, in which we go down and then come bouncing back, probably cannot happen with Obama's deficits now firmly in place.
Then it will become clear that the cure was worse than the disease.