| 8.6°C Dublin

He's had two historic wins -- so why does America think he's a loser?

President Obama will fly to Acadia National Park on the northern coast of Maine tomorrow for a well-earned rest after winning an historic battle to secure the most far-reaching reforms of Wall Street since the Great Depression.

Everything in the preceding paragraph is true, but not even Mr Obama's press office would dare to garland the facts with such a positive spin.

The First Family's choice of Maine for their weekend away is controversial because they are not going to the oil-stained Gulf of Mexico.

The financial reform Bill that the president is now almost certain to sign next week has been attacked from the Left for its concessions to special interests and from the Right for sending hedge fund managers abroad in search of looser regulations.


The president is working hard and getting results, but no one is cheering.

Instead, he is labouring under the perception that he has failed vital tests of leadership posed by the economy, the BP oil spill and Arizona's anti-immigration mutiny, and that as a result he is leading the Democratic Party to what could be its worst midterm defeat in 16 years, four months from now.

A new Washington Post poll published this week showed his job approval ratings at a new low of 43pc.

Where six out of 10 voters trusted his decision-making a year ago, only four out of 10 do now.

One of the most eloquent pundits from his own liberal base, Eric Alterman, has penned a widely quoted 17,000-word screed writing off the Obama presidency so far as a "big disappointment".

And the administration's battle plan for the midterms is based not on trumpeting its accomplishments but attacking gaffe-prone Republican congressmen whose names -- like those of Boggis, Bunce and Bean -- happen to begin with B.

Representatives Joe Barton, of Texas, and John Boehner, of Ohio, have certainly scored spectacular own goals. When Mr Barton apologised to BP last month for what he called a $20bn shakedown by the White House, he cast his party as the friend of Big Oil and wrecked its efforts to depict the disaster in the Gulf as Mr Obama's Hurricane Katrina.

When Mr Boehner accused the administration of using financial regulatory reform to attack "an ant", he left the way clear for Mr Obama to accuse him of trivialising a recession that has cost eight million jobs.

Mr Obama has done just that -- but the economy is still on life support. Unemployment is inching down towards 9.5pc and corporate profits are up but private sector jobs are being created at nowhere near the rate needed to create a virtuous circle of confidence.

The "real" jobless rate, including those who have given up looking for work, is as high as 17pc in some states. There are five jobseekers for every vacancy, and the unemployed have been without work for twice as long, on average, as in any previous recession since World War Two.

"Obama's achievements are historic but they are Christmas tree ornaments, and the tree is the economy," said Professor Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia yesterday (Tuesday).

"Everything he has got past Congress was supposed to improve the economy but to most people it simply hasn't worked. Once the economy is healthy again they'll start admiring the ornaments."

The "change agent" of 2008 vanquished Hillary Clinton and then John McCain with a message of hope and a promise of change. He has delivered change -- and gone grey in the process.

No one disputes that the effects of the health and financial reforms for which he has fought will be felt for decades, or that he has kept up a prodigious work rate making the case for them in Congress and on flying visits to virtually every corner of the country.


But for millions of Americans the reality of his first term so far is one of expiring unemployment benefits, shuttered businesses and broken dreams. This has left Mr Obama vulnerable to the charge of misjudging his administration's priorities whenever he focuses on anything other than jobs.

It has also left him unable to regain political momentum when ambushed by events. When a baby-faced Nigerian allegedly tried to destroy an airliner on Christmas Day last year, the White House had to put a long-awaited "hard pivot" to jobs and the economy on hold while the president salvaged his national security credentials.

The Haitian earthquake threw him off course the following month, and a giant gas bubble from beneath the Gulf of Mexico has preoccupied the president for 85 days during which advisers have been begging him to focus on job creation.

Had he done so, he might have made a virtue of the $800bn stimulus package that was his first legislative achievement. Instead, that package is a millstone round Democrats' necks as the midterms loom.

They do have some grounds for hope. The oil spill may finally be under control and financial reform may give corporate America the clear horizon that it needs to start hiring again.

And they have a not-so secret weapon in a comeback champ who time and again has come from behind to score dazzling political victories.

He did it recently with a single campaign trip to support an obscure congressional candidate in a primary race in Pennsylvania, and again on the hustings for Senator Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas.

He has even been credited with cheering the United States to victory over Algeria in the World Cup.

His name, of course, is Bill Clinton.