Monday, January 27, 2014

measuring presidential success

White House political types are trying to sell a dubious line -- that the president doesn't really need Congress to do great things, and that the media should not judge the Obama administration by how many of its proposals make it into law.

Of course the president needs Congress -- to pass annual appropriations, to deal with the debt ceiling, and to make any changes in the laws [like the Affordable Care Act] that have glitches or anomalies.

And when a president offers a laundry list of ideas in the State of the Union address, he invites a later lookback at how many were approved.

Meanwhile, there is real-time information on how well the president is going in the approval ratings and related polls, some of which date to the 1930s and provide a reliable graph of presidential favor and disfavor. Those numbers also contribute to overall presidential power because other politicians adjust their own behavior, moving closer to popular presidents and away from unpopular ones.

Unlike French presidents, who, pharaoh-like, seem to believe they need a legacy of at least one major building, U.S. presidents should be judged more like doctors -- did they do no harm and save most of their patients?

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