Henny Youngman, the late borscht belt comedian, told hundreds of politically incorrect jokes. One of them was his response when asked, “How’s your wife?” “Compared to what?” he’d say.
Many women find the joke tasteless, but it can be a useful framework for thinking about national politics. Americans may not be ecstatic about President Obama and his policies, but compared with the Republicans, they think Obama doesn’t look so bad. This might partly explain why, even with all of the controversies engulfing the Obama administration these days, the president doesn’t appear to be hurt at all, at least as measured by job-approval ratings.
The numbers paint a picture very different from most congressional Republicans’ view of the world. Obama’s job-approval ratings are pretty much where they have been for the past few months, before the controversies over Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Associated Press began dominating the news two weeks ago. The May 17-18 CNN/ORC poll pegs Obama’s job approval at 53 percent, up 2 points from early April. The Gallup Organization’s polling for the week of May 6-12 showed that 49 percent approve and 44 percent disapprove of the president. For the following week, May 13-19, the numbers were precisely the same. The three-night average ratings for May 20-22 were 50 approve, 44 disapprove. Obama’s numbers have been within the same range for months. His job-approval rating, according to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, released May 21, is still hovering around the same place, at 51 percent.