This week's polls are a disaster for President Barack Obama. The Rasmussen poll has his approval dropping to 45 percent, after several weeks at 49 percent. The Zogby poll has it even lower — at 42 percent.
Worse yet, he's losing his political base: People under 30 — long a key element of his support — give him no better than break-even ratings, with 41 percent approving and 41 percent disapproving of the job he's doing, according to Zogby. Only 75 percent of Democrats, who formerly have supported Obama strongly, now approve of his performance in office. Zogby reports that this represents a slide of more than 10 points over the summer. Even among blacks, only 74 percent approve of the job he's doing (also a drop of more than 10 points). Hispanics, who voted for him by a margin of more than 40 points, now break even (36-36) when rating his performance.
Independents, the key swing group in our politics, now deliver a sharply negative 37-50 verdict on Obama's job performance. The elderly also give him negative ratings by 42-51.
This poll-implosion leaves Obama with few good options.
He obviously can't get 60 votes in the Senate for his healthcare proposals in their current form. No Republican will support them, and moderate Democrats aren't likely to vote with him.
If he tries to pass it with 50 votes, using so-called reconciliation procedures, he may also fail — because he'd also lose the votes of less-moderate Democrats who'd quail at using parliamentary tricks to pass such a radical, unpopular program.
If Obama waters down his proposals to attract moderate support, he'd lose votes on the left — perhaps more than he'd gain, at this point.
Yet the longer he takes to resolve this political problem, the more his ratings will slip — diminishing his power to achieve anything. No president with support in the 30s would be able to push through a program like his healthcare agenda.
It now looks like healthcare reform will cripple the Obama presidency, as it did Bill Clinton's in 1993.
Of course, Clinton was able to move to the center and secure re-election in 1996. But can a true believer like Obama do the same? He has shown a willingness to move to the center on foreign policy, leaving troops in Iraq and adding them in Afghanistan. But on the domestic front, the only area where he has been willing to embrace centrist positions is education.
At best, Obama will be months if not years recovering from this disaster. In the short term, he's likely to finish September wishing he'd stayed in Martha's Vineyard.