Gallup says that "More than eight in 10 Americans (81%) disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job," whereas 52 percent approve of the way President Obama is doing his job, therefore "the disparity may give Obama the upper hand when it comes to generating public support on various policy issues and laws where congressional leaders and the president disagree"--i.e., think sequester.
Gallup's guesswork exemplifies what we can call the Progressive Hypothesis, which contends that the president, in possession of the "bully pulpit" (a mistaken T.R.-ism whose originator, by "bully," meant fine or dandy, not bullying) can somehow amass unbearable public pressure on Congress to act in a way contrary to its wishes. (The Progressive Hypothesis is closely related to the Progressive Delusion, which holds that street marches and assorted public protests can and indeed will coerce Congress and the president to act in ways contrary to their wishes.)
Last year, in a New Yorker piece by Ezra Klein, titled "The Unpersuaded: Who Listens To A President?" the president's own David Axelrod tried shooting down the Progressive Hypothesis: "Some folks in politics believe this is all just a rhetorical game, but when you’re governing it’s not." The article's larger upshot reflected Axelrod's observation:
Aggressive, public leadership is typically ineffective and, during periods of divided government, can actually make matters worse.
All right then. So the bully pulpit is out? Wrong. Because "passivity is even more dangerous," since "you’re not getting anything done and you look like you’re not even trying." And this, it would seem, is the principal political lesson that Axelrod & Co. took from their boss's first term, second half.
All of which leads, however, to the article's largest upshot, which loops back to Axelrod's original, Progressive Hypothesis-shoot down:
[A]s the two parties become more sharply divided, it may become increasingly difficult for a President to govern--and there’s little that he can do about it.
Hence the Progressive Hypothesis stands both falsified and unrefuted, condemned and acquitted, right and wrong. The bully pulpit is a magnificent show, shimmering in all manner of beneficial appearance; but as a governing tool, it's a hamster's wheel.