The Price of Trying and Failing

| Mon Sep. 26, 2011 1:42 PM EDT

Polls show repeatedly that people (a) approve of Obama's specific proposals to boost the economy, but (b) disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy. Weird! But then again, maybe not. Andrew Sprung points out that there's a reason Obama lost support after the debt ceiling deal even though the public largely supported his approach:

He wanted to cut spending and raise taxes, and so put the U.S., by his lights, on a firm financial footing for ten years and put the deficit wars behind him. That's what he told the American people, repeatedly, through the summer. They believed him. They supported him — polls showed strong backing for his "balanced" approach to deficit reduction. And he couldn't do it — not because he was happy to just cut spending, but because he lashed himself to the debt ceiling mast, notwithstanding the fact that Republicans were swearing their willingness to row him (and the country) over a cliff. He is being punished in the court of public opinion not for trying to compromise but for failing to get a compromise.

The difference is important.

Yes it is. And you know who understands this really, really well? The Republican leadership.

This is one of the reasons I've long been skeptical of the notion that Obama should have fought harder for progressive legislation even when it was likely to fail. "At least people would know where he stands," goes the usual mantra. And that's true. But what people would also know is that he didn't have the juice to get anything done. You can stand on a soapbox forever and tell people that this is all the fault of those obstructionist Republicans, but most of them aren't paying attention. They'll just vaguely hear that Obama failed yet again and start to think that the guy's a loser.

Nothing succeeds like success. And nothing helps a president more than an economy that's actually doing well. The details of failure just don't matter that much, unfortunately. And Republicans know it. For them, congressional dysfunction is a feature, not a bug.