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Commentary: The voters are angry
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opinion Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SAN DIEGO -- President Obama's political stock is plunging. But not everyone is ready to accept it.

A recent story about the findings of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll boasted a headline that read: "In poll, Republicans gaining political ground on Obama." Gaining ground? Are they kidding? Look at the poll's findings. More like: "Republicans leave Obama in the dust."

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On four of five major domestic issues -- the economy, health care, jobs and the budget deficit -- a majority of Americans disapprove of the job that Obama is doing. In fact, according to the poll, a majority of Americans approve of the president's performance with regard to only one issue: fighting terrorism. Fifty-six percent approve of his efforts to protect the country, while 39 percent oppose them.

On national security, it's a dramatic role reversal. Democrats have long been saddled with the perception that they're weak on this issue. No longer. This must be bittersweet for the Obama administration. After all, it borrowed most of its anti-terror policies -- i.e. detentions, enemy combatants, domestic wiretaps, military tribunals, the prison at Guantanamo Bay -- from President George W. Bush.

This poll and others like it amount to good news for Republicans. When registered voters were asked which party they'd be more likely to vote for in a hypothetical matchup in their congressional district if the election were held today, 48 percent said they'd vote Republican while 45 percent indicated they'd support a Democrat.

The White House is spinning these poll findings as evidence of an overall "anti-incumbency" mood sweeping the country. But what else can it do? To the rest of us, it should be clear that much of what we're seeing is a vote of "no confidence" in Obama's leadership. It's obvious that many Americans believe the president -- aided and abetted by Democrats in Congress -- overreached in his agenda.

Why else would 57 percent of respondents approve of the fact that Republicans have enough votes to block the Democrats while only 36 percent consider it a bad thing?

Of course, for the GOP, not all the news is positive. Just because voters have become disillusioned with Obama doesn't translate into enthusiasm for Republicans. And we should be thankful for this. Otherwise, they might get the idea that they're doing something right. Mostly they're just benefiting from the blunders and excesses of the other side. At this point, for many Americans, the Republicans' major selling point is that they're not Democrats.

In the poll, 58 percent say the GOP isn't trying hard enough to compromise on issues, compared to 44 percent who say that Obama is too obstinate. And when you compare the two parties, Republicans are still more unpopular than Democrats -- 52 percent of Americans have a negative image of the GOP, while only 46 percent say that about Democrats. Along the same lines, when asked how often Senate Republicans should filibuster and block legislation proposed by Obama and Senate Democrats, 68 percent said "not often" and only 25 percent responded that they should do it "often."

Then there's this surprise -- a silver lining for Democrats. When you take Obama out of the equation and ask voters which party they trust to "do a better job in coping with the main problems that the nation faces," 43 percent choose Democrats while only 37 percent put their trust in Republicans.

Some will see these findings as contradictory. They aren't. They have some nuance, and yet they make perfect sense to me. Judging from this survey and others like it, many Americans are saying they want the two major parties to work together to solve the nation's toughest problems. We're tired of pandering, grandstanding, bickering, overreaching, obstinacy, and gamesmanship. We've rediscovered our appreciation for checks and balances because we've seen enough to be suspicious of either party if they accumulate so much power that they can run roughshod over the political process. We've grown disenchanted with Obama on the major domestic issues and only give him a pass on anti-terror policies that he pilfered from his predecessor. But we're also fed up with the GOP's obstructionism -- so much so that we're not quite ready to turn over the keys to the Republicans. They'll have to do more to earn our trust in the months to come if they want to take control of Congress in November.

For the most part, we want our representatives in Washington to put aside their personal agendas, get to work, and act like grown-ups. The sad part is, there are times when this seems like a tall order.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is rnavarrette@wctrib.com.

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