Published DateHow can it be that with Washington simmering in scandals, with Republicans (not to mention talk-show hosts) using the "I" word (impeachment) with abandon, with calls to bring back Ken Starr (of Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky fame), President Obama's job approval rating is holding steady at around 50 percent, thank you very much?
It is unchanged from April, when no one was talking about any of those things.
The explanation is easy: Unemployment is down; home sales and prices are at five-year highs. As always, it's the economy.
The surveys don't tell us, at least not for sure, whether the president's approval rating would be even higher were it not for all the hearings and finger pointing under the Capitol Dome. But they do tell us this: While more Republicans than Democrats are paying attention to the coverage of the scandals, overall, 75 percent of us just aren't watching any of it very carefully. And it's not even Memorial Day.
As for the supposed "Second-Term Curse," which is also getting its share of ink, the fact is that Congress is making steady progress on immigration reform, which traditionally has been one of the trickiest public policy areas for any president, Republican or Democrat.
Is the government working despite itself? Maybe.
Have the rest of us grown so scandal-weary after so many years of partisan bickering and hyped-up hollering that we hardly know a real scandal from a look-alike? Maybe.
So should the president just relax and go play nine holes? Absolutely not.
For Barack Obama, the question is not whether he will win the next election. There is no next election. The question is whether his presidency will be judged a success, what his legacy will be, whether people will look back at his tenure and say that, all in all, the country was in good hands.
Obama was re-elected despite a still-struggling economy, for reasons that had as much to do with demographics and Republican mistakes as his own successes. His signal accomplishment — the passage of Obamacare — is about to face the acid test.
Will it "work"? Will Obamacare, like Medicare, soon be seen as an accepted (and essential) part of American life? The administration, in advance of the graduation speech season, was priming officials to emphasize to graduates and their parents how much Obamacare is already helping them. But allowing our kids to stay on our health plans after they graduate isn't enough to cause a wholesale embrace of "exchanges" and "mandates" and the rest — words that are on the verge of becoming reality.
Likewise, while the economy is improving, big problems loom. Today's college graduates face an uncertain future, to say the least. According to a study out last month from the Economic Policy Institute, unemployment among recent college grads (ages 21-24) has averaged just under 9 percent over the past year. But the "underemployment rate" — the number you get when you add in those working part time and those who have stopped looking for work — is more than twice that. After adjusting for inflation, young college grads working full time make about $3,200 a year less than they did in 2000.
Virtually every parent I know with kids in this age group is not just keeping them on their health plan; they're helping to support them one way or another. To quote Paul Ryan (of all people, I know): "College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life."
The challenge for the president is not simply to survive the "scandal du jour." It is to make Obamacare work. It is to help today's young people move forward. It is to move beyond the scandals to successes that are worth paying attention to.
Based on what we've heard to date, I feel confident that the president won't be impeached. But whether he will be celebrated as a great president is a question that ultimately will be answered by many of those underemployed college grads who are still staring at the old posters, as well as their parents, who are still paying the bills.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)