Obama’s Rising Poll Numbers: The Dog-That-Didn’t-Bark Factor

As Steve noted yesterday there are plenty of reasons why, going into the Christmas break, Barack Obama is looking surprisingly strong politically. The economy is slowly improving. The troops are out of Iraq. The agenda in Washington has shifted — largely as the result of the president’s own speeches — from debt-reduction to job creation. And the House Republicans have insanely positioned themselves on the wrong side of the payroll tax cut.

But there’s another reason to consider, a sort of dog-that-didn’t-bark factor. As Jonathan Alter explains in his recent Washington Monthly cover story, Obama has gone longer than any recent president without a significant scandal on his watch. Alter predicted that if this record continues it could have a real effect on the president’s reelection chances. I think we may already be seeing signs of that effect.

As recently as a month ago, congressional Republicans seemed confident that they could ensnare Obama in high-profile investigations of various “scandals” — the Solyndra bankruptcy, the Fast and Furious fiasco. But those investigations mostly fizzled without producing any really damning evidence against the White House or Obama personally, and they certainly never captured the nation’s attention. Meanwhile, the GOP presidential race became a virtual TV mini-series of real scandals, from accusations of sexual harassment and adultery against Herman Cain to new revelations about Newt Gingrich (a lucrative “historian” gig with Freddy Mac) to go with the old ones (adultery, congressional ethics violations). I don’t know that there’s any way to prove it, but it seems possible to me that some part of the president’s rising poll numbers is the result of the characterological contrast between him and certain Republican frontrunners.

Alter’s cover story is a great example of the kind of work we aspire to produce — smart, well-reported, and ahead of the pack. You probably know Alter from his long career as a Newsweek columnist, his regular appearances on MSNBC, and his best-selling books. What you might not know is that he got his start as an editor at the Washington Monthly. About his time here, he writes:

Working at the Washington Monthly was my most important experience in journalism. It taught me how to think deeply about politics and government and write in a way that–when I’m doing my job–is compelling and even entertaining for readers. And I’ve never worked harder or had more fun. Newsweek and MSNBC were anti-climactic.

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Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.