Overseas, just before Memorial Day weekend at home, a roadside bomb pushed the U.S. military death toll to 1,000 in Afghanistan, the war that Obama decided to fight with escalating force while withdrawing combat boots from Iraq.
Unemployment rate: 9.5 percent. Presidential approval rating: 50 percent. Congressional approval: 24 percent.
Where's the outrage? If coolness in a crisis is a virtue in the Oval Office, people also want to see leaders channel their anger and frustration.
Obama absorbed that lesson as the oil still gushed. He told Americans his talks with Gulf fishermen and oil and environmental experts were "so I know whose ass to kick."
An Associated Press-GfK poll during the crisis found that Americans had become just as dissatisfied with Obama's work on the Gulf oil spill as they had been with President George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina.
"He's certainly moved from seeming to walk on water to really slogging in the mud, the oil-filled mud if you will," Fred Greenstein, a Princeton University presidential scholar, told AP. "He is hitting a lot of existential obstacles — things that are out there and that are intractable."
In an extraordinary loose-lips episode, Obama's Afghanistan war commander and his aides unloaded on senior administration officials in a Rolling Stone magazine profile. Obama swiftly fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and summoned his Central Command leader, Gen. David Petraeus, to step back from that plum post and run the war effort. The episode revealed continuing frustration over what some front-line officers see as micromanaging by Washington.
Unemployment rate: 9.5 percent.
The administration called it "Recovery Summer" but people didn't seem to be buying it.
Yes, economic growth was coming back from the year before. But the $814 billion stimulus package was supposed to wrestle down unemployment, and that was still perilously close to 10 percent. Democrats who had gone to the wall for the health care overhaul were hearing voters tell them to fix the economy.
The vastly complicated health law may be as far-reaching as Social Security in the 1930s or Medicare in the 1960s. But it is different. Most people aren't suddenly getting a check from the government in the mail. The promised gains unfold in many stages spread out over years.
Joblessness is now.
Unemployment rate: 9.6 percent. Presidential approval rating: 49 percent. Congressional approval: 24 percent.
Vacations are rarely just vacations for a president and his family. This year was no exception.
Michelle Obama's five-day trip to the south of Spain with daughter Sasha touched off a mini-firestorm stoked by questions about the wisdom of such a glamorous trip and over-the-top speculation about who was footing the bill. Suddenly the popular first lady was being labeled a "material girl" sponging off taxpayers.
Later in the month, the oil spill finally choked off in advance of the final kill of the well, the Obamas symbolically vacationed in the Gulf to show the world that beaches were safe, clean and open for business again. Playing in the Florida Panhandle, the president and Sasha swam out of public view in Saint Andrew Bay off of Alligator Point, technically not the Gulf.
August produced "a good day" for Obama, the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, and a milestone in Iraq as the last combat troops came out, leaving 50,000 to try to help Iraqi forces maintain security. "It's time to turn the page," he said.
GM, recipient of a nearly $50 billion bailout, reported another quarterly profit, $1.3 billion, and began the process of shedding government ownership. The automaker stayed profitable in the fall and raised $13 billion for taxpayers in its initial stock sale to the public. Like Chrysler, also out of bankruptcy protection, GM has been hiring thousands more workers.
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