Gazing serenely from the Great Wall of China last week, President Barack Obama appeared to be making the most of one of the supreme perks of White House occupancy — a private guided tour of Asia’s most spectacular tourist destination.
White House aides exulted that perfectly choreographed pictures of this moment would make front pages around the world. Yet an experience Obama declared to be “magical” turned sour as he returned home to a spreading domestic revolt that is fanning Democratic unease.
It was not just that the US media have suddenly turned a lot more sceptical about a president with grand ambitions to reshape politics at home and abroad — even one previously friendly newspaper noted dismissively: “Obama goes to China, brings home a T-shirt.”
Nor was the steady decline in the president’s approval ratings — which fell below 50% for the first time in a Gallup poll last week — the main cause of White House angst. Obama remains more popular than either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton a year after their elections, and both presidents eventually cruised to second terms.The real problem may be Obama’s friends — or rather, those among his formerly most enthusiastic supporters who are now having second thoughts.
The doubters are suddenly stretching across a broad section of the Democratic party’s natural constituency. They include black congressional leaders upset by the sluggish economy; women and Hispanics appalled by concessions made to Republicans on healthcare; anti-war liberals depressed by the debate over troops for Afghanistan; and growing numbers of blue-collar workers who are continuing to lose their jobs and homes.