Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Behind the slide in Obama's poll numbers

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
June 18, 2013 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
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
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT