Obama pleads for voters’ patience

President Obama is emulating former President George W. Bush’s reelection argument to voters from 2004: Be patient and give me more time.

Bush prevailed by using this argument against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) when the subject was the Iraq War.

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Obama is asking for patience on the economy — turf less likely to foster stoicism or a sense of shared national sacrifice — and he is doing so in the wake of three ‘wave’ elections in a row, in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

“Three successive wave elections show that voter anger has been accompanied by voter impatience,” Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said. “Anger at the ‘ins’ is a danger for Obama, but he retains a sizable residue of good will. That helps — but ignoring that voter impatience would be awfully foolish for the president.”

Brendan Daly, a former communications director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said he believes the president will carry the day, but acknowledged voters “want to see evidence that we are moving in the right direction.”


“There is patience in that they understand that things are hard. But that is coupled with a sense of urgency — that we need to see improvement,” he said.

In a major economic speech in Cleveland Thursday, Obama asserted that it was always going to take time for the U.S. economy to recover after the crisis of 2008.

“This was not your normal recession,” he said. “Throughout history, it has typically taken countries up to 10 years to recover from financial crises of this magnitude. Today, the economies of many European countries still aren’t growing.”

But Obama’s appeal for patience will only make sense if a plurality of voters agree that the nation is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. If his actions during his first term are instead seen as fundamentally ineffectual, the argument for more time falls apart.

Mitt Romney has been making the case for the prosecution.

In advance of Obama’s Cleveland speech last week, Romney predicted: “It’s ... likely that he’s going to say, ‘Give me four more years, even though I didn’t get it done in the first three-and-a-half.’ ” 

In a worrying sign for Obama, even Democrats who spoke to The Hill expressed concern about how much patience the electorate is likely to extend toward him.

“If this is about patience, we lose,” one former senior administration official said. “We have to make this election about how far we’ve come and is the president genuinely giving it everything he’s got.”

Republican strategists, meanwhile, are scathing toward the ‘more time’ argument. They insist voters are well on their way toward deciding, a la Elvis Presley, that they need a little less conversation and a little more action than Obama is offering.

“Needing more time doesn’t move the dial when Americans are feeling that nothing has changed over the past four years,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant with long experience on Capitol Hill.

“The American people had patience for three long years,” concurs Republican strategist Rick Wilson. “They’re done extending [Obama] credit. And there are fewer bright spots in the last few economic reports that can be spun into anything positive.”

The dismal May employment report, which showed the nation adding a meager 69,000 new jobs, came as an unpleasant surprise for the Obama team. 

Daly acknowledged it had helped foment a “disconcerting” atmosphere for Democrats. But he insisted that even modest progress from now until November could restore confidence to the Democratic ranks, in both Washington and Chicago.

“As the numbers come back up, the optimism about his chances will come back up too,” he said.

It is much too early to begin writing Obama off. 

The poor May jobs figure caused almost no movement in national opinion polls, while polling in the key battleground states continues to give him the edge in the electoral college.

The administration’s announcement last Friday that it would cease deporting many young illegal immigrants was a reminder of just how powerful the presidency can be when it comes to setting the national agenda. 

And a Gallup poll released last week showed voters still drape the lion’s share of the blame for the economic crisis around Bush’s shoulders.

Some Democratic strategists said that, while an appeal for patience may not carry the same poetic charge as 2008’s “Change You Can Believe In,” it is an acceptable response to the conditions in which Obama and the nation now find themselves.

Making such an appeal is “a tough political argument,” said one strategist, Jamal Simmons. “It’s not simple. It’s not a bumper sticker. But it’s the reality.”

But some experts wonder if the traditional American desire for instant results might instead capsize Obama’s chances.

“Americans are not used to having a lot of suffering lasting for a long time. We are, as a public, a fairly impatient public,” said Lara Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University.

Brown added: “This is the third summer of green shoots withering in the sun. I think patience is wearing thin.”