8 a.m. ET: The unemployment rate remains over 10 percent, the way forward in Afghanistan is uncertain and the attack at Fort Hood last week provided a fresh reminder of both the toll of war and the potential threat of homegrown extremism. In that gloomy context, it's worth asking: Is the U.S. depressed?
"The euphoria of 2008 is over: America is in a funk," the Associated Press writes as the lede to its story on the latest AP-GfK poll, which found: "People were more pessimistic about the direction of the country than in October. They disapproved of Obama's handling of the economy a bit more than before. And, perhaps most striking for this novice commander in chief, more people have lost confidence in Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan over the last month. Overall, there's a malaise about the state of the nation." AP's results track those of other surveys. On the overall direction of the country, Pollster.com has the average "wrong track" response ticking up to 55 percent in recent weeks, while Obama's average job approval has gradually slid down to the 50 percent mark.
If at least some of that decline is driven by Afghanistan, can Obama halt the slide by making -- and selling -- a firm decision on the way forward in that war? Obama meets Wednesday with his top advisers to hone in on a decision, and the Wall Street Journal writes he "will consider a new compromise plan for adding troops to Afghanistan that would deploy 30,000 to 35,000 new forces, including as many as 10,000 military trainers, over the next year or more. ... A senior military official said this hybrid option is now drawing the most attention at the Pentagon." But the New York Times reports that while Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Mike Mullen "are coalescing around a proposal to send 30,000 or more additional American troops to Afghanistan ... Obama remains unsatisfied with answers he has gotten about how vigorously the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan would help execute a new strategy." The Hill writes, "Republican Senate leaders blasted reports ... that Obama is leaning toward recommending slightly fewer than the 40,000 troops said to be requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal," while "Democrats pointed to Obama’s careful deliberation, saying they sense the decision is well-researched."
Five days after the horrific attack and one before Veterans' Day, Obama led a somber memorial service at Fort Hood. John Dickerson says Obama's speech "was a small masterpiece. ... The president had great material and he knew not to get in its way." "Obama took on the role of national eulogist on Tuesday for the first time since assuming office," the New York Times writes, adding that the president "chose not to address in detail the haunting questions raised by the Fort Hood killings. ... Did the government miss warning signs when it did not follow up on his communications with a radical cleric in Yemen? How does an American soldier become so radicalized? Did this constitute domestic terrorism?"
On the investigative front, The Washington Post writes, "finger-pointing in Washington intensified Tuesday about whether officials at several agencies had failed to coordinate as they tracked the suspect's activities or to react to possible warning signs in the months before the attack." The Los Angeles Times adds, "Two high-profile anti-terrorism task forces did not inform the Defense Department about contacts" between the suspect, Nidal Hasan, and a radical Islamic cleric. ABC News quotes a "senior government official" as saying Hasan "more unexplained connections to people being tracked by the FBI" than just the cleric, Anwar al-Aulaqi.
On health care, President Clinton visited Senate Democrats Tuesday and urged them to cut a deal soon, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Harry Reid said he planned to bring the reform bill to the chamber floor next week and hoped to finish it by Christmas, though the jury is still out on whether that is doable. Abortion continues to be a flashpoint, and Politico writes that the health-care fight has shattered "the delicate cease-fire that has governed the abortion issue during the Obama era." Watching the health-care debate, Steven Pearlstein compares Congress to the proverbial frog in the pot of water that is gradually boiled to death. Lamenting the "wholesale disregard for majority rule, Pearlstein writes: "All of this, course, has developed so gradually that Washington insiders are inured to the undemocratic nature of the House and the Senate. Most days they are so caught up in the gamesmanship it has spawned that they barely notice how utterly ridiculous and ineffective the legislative process has become."
While the media's glare has focused elsewhere, the effort to pass financial regulatory reform has plodded forward, with Chris Dodd introducing his overhaul plan Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal says the plan "would impose sweeping curbs on the Federal Reserve, posing the biggest legislative challenge to the central bank in decades and illustrating how divided Capitol Hill remains about the future of financial regulation." Ben Bernanke, meanwhile, "was schooled last month in how to handle the increased political demands of his job," the New York Times reports, as "the Fed chairman agreed to reduce his own visibility on the issue" of whether the Fed should be audited so Barney Frank could strike a compromise.
November 11, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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