News Whiplash: Scary Headlines Are Defining Obama's Year

Image: Some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion is revealed in this undated handout colorized transmission electron micrograph
Some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion is revealed in this undated handout colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) obtained by Reuters August 1, 2014. U.S. health officials said September 30, 2014 the first patient infected with the deadly Ebola virus had been diagnosed in the country, in a new sign of how the outbreak ravaging West Africa can spread globally. REUTERS/Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: HEALTH) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. MANDATORY CREDITReuters

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Every news cycle introduces the American public to another unbelievable -- and usually negative -- story. Over the summer, it was the rise of ISIS and the surface-to-air missile that destroyed a jetliner over Eastern Ukraine. Then there was the flood of unaccompanied Central American minors coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. After that, the beheadings of the American journalists in Syria. And now? On Tuesday, we learned about the first confirmed Ebola case diagnosed in the United States, and we also found about the U.S. Secret Service’s latest misstep -- an armed contractor with a criminal record was allowed on an elevator next to the president of the United States. You could even add the protests and unrest in Hong Kong which could arguably be the MOST important political development in the world right now, depending on how China responds. Take all of these stories together, and what you get is news-cycle whiplash, where it’s one bad or scary story after another. The Ebola and Secret Service stories, in particular, underscore a feeling of insecurity for the country. (“Can’t we stop these things anymore? We’re America, we know we have the resources, so how have we failed?”) Politically, it’s difficult to dismiss how these negative storylines have defined Obama’s sixth year in office and have highlighted a, well, lack of control over events. As we’ve said before, events have controlled Obama’s second term more than the other way around.

The world isn’t burning

But it’s also important to put all of these events into perspective. As the New York Times’ David Brooks wrote last week, the United States and world aren’t on fire. “[T]here hasn’t been a time in American history when so many global cultures percolated in the mainstream, when there was so much tolerance for diverse ethnicities… Widening the lens, we’re living in an era with the greatest reduction in global poverty ever — across Asia and Africa. We’re seeing a decline in civil wars and warfare generally… We face nothing like the slavery fights of the 1860s, the brutality of child labor and industrialization of the 1880s, or a civilization-threatening crisis like World War I, the Great Depression, World War II or the Cold War.” More Brooks: “Our global enemies are not exactly impressive. We have the Islamic State, a bunch of barbarians riding around in pickup trucks, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a lone thug sitting atop a failing regime.” So, yes, there is news-cycle whiplash and a sense of insecurity. But -- and we have to admit our bias for if-it-bleeds-it-leads news coverage here, as well as our collective short attention span -- we also need a sense of perspective.

Healthcare.Gov and the government shutdown -- one year later

If all of these different world events have defined 2014, we’ve reached the one-year anniversary of the two events that defined American politics in 2013 -- the government shutdown and HealthCare.Gov’s disastrous rollout. And here’s the reality: Both stories aren’t as effective weapons on the campaign trail right now as the parties thought they’d be six months ago.. Yes, both the government shutdown and the negative health-care storyline have made frequent appearances in midterm messaging and TV ads. And, yes, the health-care law remains unpopular and is hardly a political asset at this point. But these aren’t the subjects dominating the midterms with less than five weeks to go. In fact, you could argue how immigration -- see this Pat Roberts TV ad -- has become more of the GOP’s closing argument. And regarding health-care, the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn argues that the good stories (more have gained insurance, premiums are rising more slowly than previously thought, health costs are rising at historically low rates) have outnumbered the bad ones (the discovery that some people are paying large bills for emergency visits).

Poll finds Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey at 46%

Remember when we told you that Bridge-gate is now the least of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s worries? Well, a new Quinnipiac poll has his job-approval rating in the state at 46% -- down from 49% in Aug. 2014 and April 2014, and 55% in Jan. 2014 (after the Bridge-gate story broke). Indeed, this current job rating is his lowest since June 2011, when it was at 44%. So the Bridge-gate story has been disappearing as a headline for Christie, and his job rating is now worse. The news about the credit downgrades in the Garden State isn’t helping Christie at all, and it’s perhaps the bigger driver. And never mind the fact that he has NOT been in the state a lot recently, thanks to his duties as head of the RGA. As history indicates, locals aren’t thrilled when their governor starts showing too much national ambition if it appears it is coming at the expense of the state. Just another thing to think about when assessing Christie’s poll problems.

Today’s midterm polling

Here are some other polls out today. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich is leading by a whopping 22 points, 57%-35%... In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley is up by 10 points, 44%-34%, per a new Winthrop poll… And in Kentucky, the Alison Grimes campaign released an internal poll showing her ahead of incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell by 2 points among likely voters, 42%-40%, with Libertarian David Patterson getting 3%. But that result runs contrary to all the public polls out there -- and it indicates a surprisingly HIGH undecided number.

First Read’s Race of the Day: NJ-3: MacArthur vs. Belgard

After a bruising primary against former Senate candidate and Tea Party supporter Steve Lonegan, Tom MacArthur won the GOP nomination to replace retiring Rep. Jon Runyan. MacArthur, an insurance company CEO and former mayor of Randolph, recently moved to the Burlington area district from northern New Jersey. But with deep pockets, he’s considered to be a favorite over Democratic challenger Aimee Belgard, a Burlington County Freeholder who represents a chunk of the district.

Countdown to Election Day: 34 days

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