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The Democrats' Moment of Truth

February 4, 2013
By John Zogby

The polls are all looking quite good for the President and the Democrats right now. This week's Zogby Analytics Poll has the President moving up a point to 57% job approval.

Above and beyond that number, likely voters give him higher marks than previously on most topics: the economy (51%), understanding the middle class (54%), health care (48%), education (58%), and immigration (50%). Even better, a solid majority (55%) are optimistic about the United States for the next four years, a plurality (48%-30%) feel that the Republicans should work with the President on his agenda, and more are likely to say they are doing better financially than worse in the past four years.

For President Obama, this is a good place to be. He is moving along on immigration reform, on gun control, on getting his Cabinet approved, and on watching the other side uncertain about its future with voters. As I have noted many times in this column, the GOP has a serious demographic problem and I am not sure they know how to address it sufficiently.

While it is hard to find any seriously bad news for Mr. Obama in the polling, there are lessons he and his Democratic Party must learn. The first is that honeymoons don't last very long. He is wise to strike right now, early in his second term, while the numbers are good, and before some sort of a second term "jinx" or "scandal" wipes a lot of the good will away.

The more important lesson, however, is this: just because you won does not mean you are winning. Surely, Mr. Obama was re-elected by a majority and his numbers are well over 50 percent. But voters in the Zogby Poll still have two major concerns. The President, who engineered a coup on saving middle class tax cuts and increasing taxes on higher earners has a net negative approval rating from the voters on taxes - 47% approve, 50% disapprove. And kicking the can down the road on the deficit may see that can go down a manhole cover very soon. The President only gets a 42% approval rating on the deficit with 55% disapproving.

The public is in consensus mode when it comes to sequestration. Across the board cuts could mean the loss of 800,000 jobs just in defense alone, perhaps over a million more. Besides, not addressing the problem of the deficit with a plan is not leadership, it is the lack of it. It means that the number one security issue of the day - the solvency and trustworthiness of the federal government, the biggest threat of a new recession, the livelihoods of millions of people, the reputation of all elected leaders - is too big to handle. Even worse, if one can imagine, sequestration (i.e. defaulting on the responsibility to lead in a time of crisis) is as bad as a nuclear attack or a major act of cyber-terrorism.

I agree that the GOP would be hurt more - simply because it has fought the President on everything that it looks like it is just flailing, has raised serious roadblocks in the past four years, lacks its own sense of direction, and has very low approval numbers. But it is very hard to see how Mr. Obama and the Democrats win if the deficit is not addressed in the short term. I agree that the pump must continue to be primed with targeted spending. But I also agree that waste must be addressed with targeted cuts. If Democrats and Republicans cannot use the Simpson-Bowles program as a guide to at least start the process , then what the hell good are they?

Last week's column was entitled "The GOP's Moment of Truth" because it faces issues that threaten its very continuation as a viable party. But the deficit and automatic sequestration provide the "Democrats' Moment of Truth". Let me repeat my warning: Just because you won does not mean you are winning. There could be hell to pay.