President Obama's approval rating got a big bounce in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, jumping to 53 percent, his highest rating since July '09; if you've been paying attention, you'll know that's just before Tea Party zealots started disrupting Democrats' town halls over healthcare reform and carrying guns to Obama rallies. The president's numbers swung 15 points in a month; in December, 48 percent of voters disapproved of the job he was doing, while only 45 percent approved. Obama's disapproval number is now down to 41 percent.
Obama's numbers have been climbing in other recent polls, most of which came too early to credit the jump to a post-Tucson bounce reflecting appreciation of the president's deft and compassionate handling of the tragedy. Taken a few days after the others, the WSJ/NBC poll probably does reflect approval of the president's address last Wednesday night. But Obama's ratings started to climb when the lame duck session of Congress last month proved surprisingly productive. In addition to the tax compromise (that I thought was a mistake, I admit), the president got more Republicans than ever before to sign on to repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and a new START treaty. That shows the GOP's "Just Say No" strategy actually worked: It paralyzed the president and diminished his standing, and when he can pick off some GOP support and get things done, his support climbs.
No doubt some of the swing has to do with early signs of economic improvement (no matter how inadequate it may be to alleviate the suffering of the millions of unemployed, the underemployed and those losing their homes). Public opinion improved on all of the economic questions in the new poll; 53 percent now think the country will be in better shape in five years, compared with 37 percent who thought that last August. Most still say unemployment is the country's No. 1 problem, despite a steady drop in unemployment claims over the course of 2010 and a drop in the rate to a still high 9.4 percent.
Is Sarah Palin's political meltdown helping Obama? That was the topic on "Hardball" today. I'm sure Palin's pity party is making Obama look even better by comparison, but I'm not sure anyone but the media is comparing the two. (She's the narcissist-in-chief, and she'll never be commander-in-chief.) At any rate, if Palin is helping Obama now, her effect is likely to diminish in the months to come, because her chance of winning the Republican primary is diminishing (I'd say the chance that she won't even run is rising quickly).
Chris Matthews noted that in her Sean Hannity sit-down, Palin chose to defend not only herself, but Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin -- the bullies of right-wing broadcasting -- rather than GOP political leaders. That may give us a clue to where she sees herself right now -- as a pundit, not a politician. At any rate, as I told Matthews, Palin's chosen crew is certainly no Mount Rushmore, and her time as a credible presidential candidate is probably about over.