Here's what we've come to: more people would rather share their home with a ghost in exchange for free rent than support Barack Obama's policies.
OK, it's not an exact comparison. The Obama statistic was a disapproval rating among voters in a Monday Politico poll and the ghost thing was a USA Today survey of the general public pulse (or lack thereof). They were actually dead even, pro-ghost and anti-President (51 percent.)
It was no wonder, when she was asked by a San Jose Mercury reporter Monday afternoon how things were going, Dianne Feinstein said, "bad."
In this economy, people are motivated to exchange a haunting for free rent. But there's no contextual Halloween candy-coating the damage to Mr. Obama -- his approval ratings nearly halved in the last two years, Democrats heading for some kind of whupping next week, the Washington Post dissecting his "demise," and that Politico poll showing voters believe in Republican members of Congress more than they do in him, by six points.
Members of Congress! They usually score below journalists and bed bugs.
If you ask the president, it's not really a problem of actual policy, as he confessed to the New York Times. But he has been "neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion." In other words, he says he's all substance, no image. Really? That kind of hubris can chew up anyone. And yet he and his brain trust were so good at creating expectations to begin with.
Mr. Obama, flushed out of the White House by impending electoral losses, had a chance last week to recast himself and took it, finally finding a fitting allegory.
Picture this: He's in a deep ditch with Barbara Boxer, sweat pouring off both of them, wearing gloves and boots, working his scholarly ass off at messy manual labor. (Relax, Arizona. He's legal). No kidding. I was in the room and heard him describe it.
Even presidential security seemed loose at last weekend's Los Angeles fundraiser luncheon for Barbara Boxer, particularly in such a bad-tempered political time. Boxer student volunteers gave me four stickers when there were only two of us, no one asked my name, to see any I.D. or to check me against an approved list. The only thing between me -- or anyone else on the street I gave an extra sticker to -- and the President was a metal detector in the USC Tudor Hall doorway. I've had more scrutiny checking into a hotel.
On top of everything else, the lunch seemed barren of star power in the heart of celebrity central. The only big names who showed up were Stevie Wonder (who played and was fabulous, as always) and Latoya Jackson. Wonder told the crowd, "Things are such a mess, even I can see it." Senator Boxer, standing on a box to reach the podium, thanked Magic Johnson for his support and asked if he was there. He wasn't. Stuck in traffic, they said.
For awhile, the Democrats had a solid metaphor going: the president talked about how the Republicans (Bush) had driven the car (the country/all of us) into a ditch "and now they want the keys back." Hah! Yeah!
That was pretty good, catchy, funny. Just enough lead pipe in there to be effective. But voters are no longer so into blaming the previous guy, whether it's accurate or not. Your watch, your problem, is how a lot of people see it. And as the President started that car joke last Friday at the fundraiser, he seemed to get lost. I don't have the transcript, although I was there and it went something like this:
"So Barbara and I are down in the hole trying to get the car out of the ditch and we're sweating and we're pushing and we're down there with gloves and boots and Barbara is small but she's mighty and we look up and the Republicans are up there fanning themselves drinking ice tea. When we finally get the car out of the ditch and going in the right direction, the Republicans want the keys back."
Huh? He actually buried the punch line in weird, pointless detail.
Then he comes up with another ending: "Everyone knows in a car that if you wanna go forward you put the car in "D". And if you wanna go backwards you put the car in.." and he waits for the $1,000-a-plate/$10,000-for-a-photo-op crowd to chant with him, "R!" As in Republicans, get it?
Ah. Finally I know how they're going to fix everything that's wrong with the country. Word play.
What was that? Where is the intellectual and chill Mr. Barack Spock in this Chilean miner/Hieronymus Bosch hell the President himself described over our lunch? Is this a Dukakis tank thing? How did he get down there in that ditch?
Simple. He was murdering metaphors.
In a campaign the president now says is about message, everyone knows that effective slogans and imagery are the only things that cut through the social media traffic. People are just too distracted by the latest viral cat YouTube video and need their media blitz to be delivered bite-sized.
"Got milk?" "Just do it!" "Four more years!" Epigrammatic stuff like that. Maybe Jerry Brown's recent GOP "Children of Darkness" quote. But it sure won't be what Mr. Obama told a Washington State rally: that he's a "pretty good president."
By the end of lunch, Mr. Obama had driven his party's sloganeering into a giant pothole and wrecked it. Should we let him keep the keys this midterm election?