Obamacare and Benghazi: Is the Real Crisis in American Leadership?

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Americans are as satisfied with the economic and political direction Congress and the president are taking the United States as they have been for the past five months; that is to say, not satisfied at all. According to Gallup survey data gathered at the beginning of this month, nearly three in four Americans — or, more exactly, 74 percent — are dissatisfied with the country’s leadership. Since 1979, when Gallup first began this measurement, the highest public sentiment has reached is a reading of 71 percent, which came in February 1999, amid the dot-com boom. The most recent high was touched in August 2009, in the early days of President Barack Obama’s presidency. Then 36 percent of Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country — a significant recovery from the all-time low of 7 percent recorded in October 2008, during the worst of the financial crisis.

Gallup explains the consistency in public opinion through 2014 as the result of political calm, meaning this year has largely been devoid of any major political battles or sideshows in the mold of last year’s government shutdown and the fiscal cliff. It helps that economic progress has been relatively steady — if weak, at times — as well. But, the lack of significant change does not mean that the May reading of public opinion is not without significance. The country’s satisfaction level is poor, and there are a myriad of reasons, from the ongoing weakness in the labor market to the political stalemate in Washington to the numerous controversies that have shrouded the White House.

Issues that have most divided Republicans and Democrats in positions of leadership in the federal government — Obamacare, Benghazi, IRS targeting, economic policy — have contributed to the public’s dissatisfaction. And while there have been no “major political battles” yet this year, the political hangover created by the ongoing partisan fights in Washington over the health care reform and the Obama administration’s competence has irrefutably damaged the public’s assessment of its leaders. But with November’s midterm elections approaching, taking control of the public dialogue on these issues is of utmost importance for first-time candidates, incumbents, and the White House. And, given that background, lawmakers are keeping Obamacare, Benghazi, the controversy in the Veterans’ Affairs administration, and job creation as top political priorities.