THE INCENTIVE FOR DEMS TO HELP THE WHITE HOUSE…. The latest NBC News/WSJ poll covers some familiar ground, but has a few interesting tidbits.

President Obama’s approval rating is up a little to 50%, health care reform still isn’t popular, and while both parties were tied in the last generic ballot question, Dems now enjoy a narrow lead.

But the two key takeaways from the poll are that Americans are in a deeply sour mood…

Only 28 percent believe the federal government is “working well” or even works “okay,” versus seven in 10 who think it’s “unhealthy,” “stagnant” or needs large reforms. […]

What’s more, a whopping 93 percent believe there’s too much partisan infighting; 84 percent think the special interests have too much influence over legislation; nearly three-quarters say that not enough has been done to regulate Wall Street and the banking industry; and an equal 61 percent complain that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress aren’t willing to compromise.

And the percentage who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction now stands at 58 percent, the highest level of Obama’s presidency.

…but they’re not necessarily blaming the president for their anguish.

[I]f the public is fed up with Washington, its anger isn’t necessarily directed at President Obama.

Only 27 percent say they blame him for not being able to find solutions to the country’s problems. By contrast, 48 percent blame Republicans in Congress and 41 percent blame congressional Democrats.

“The president has problems,” Hart adds, “but the Congress has much bigger problems.”

It reminds me of a point I’ve been meaning to make: as an objective matter, President Obama is still the most popular political figure in Washington, and enjoys more support than either political party and either congressional delegation.

For Republicans, this creates a strong incentive to block any and all progress — the more they can destroy American politics, the more the president appears ineffective. Undermining Obama’s presidency improves their chances of winning additional power.

For Democrats, this should create the opposite incentive — the more successful Obama is, the better off they’ll be. The more they argue amongst themselves, or delay (or deliberately kill) key parts of the party’s agenda, the more they drag Obama’s support down.

Dems’ success is inextricably tied to Obama’s standing. As Ezra noted last week, this should point Democratic lawmakers in the right direction on health care, though the message isn’t getting through.

If health-care reform dies, the media will try and explain the Democrats’ failure. That means they’ll spend a lot of time talking about what Obama has done wrong. If Democrats had simply refused to freak out and moved quickly to pass the Senate bill, there would be endless stories on what Obama did right, and how the Democrats finally passed this longtime priority.

Even putting aside all the moral arguments for passing this bill — all the lives and homes it will save — a crassly political calculation should have left Democrats rushing towards passage.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.