Here is a lengthy but incomplete review of what has happened during the presidency of Barack Obama, right up to the present:
* Unemployment down from 10.2% to 5.9%
* Bin Laden and several other terrorist leaders killed
* The banking and financial sectors put back on their feet (1)
* GM and Chrysler breathed back to life (2)
* Home construction and sales both up
* Car sales up
* The Dow and S & P both at all-time highs
* All our combat troops are out of Iraq
* Coalition of European countries formed to oppose Russian expansion into the Ukraine
* Coalition of European and other countries formed to oppose ISIS (3)
* Nearly 10 million Americans now with healthcare thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicare
* Gas and oil production at an all-time high with prices at the pump at a five-year low
* The budget deficit cut by almost 60%
* Consumer confidence rising
* Nearly 20 straight quarters of positive growth in the gross domestic product
* Inflation under control
There’s probably more positives to add to this inventory but you get the picture; i.e. that’s not a bad state of affairs to be in though as the president has said, we still have work left to do.
Taking the foregoing into account, how to explain Obama’s approval rating of somewhere in the neighborhood of 45- 47%? Talk about a serious disconnect!! What will follow is an admittedly speculative attempt to understand how it came into being.
We Feel Bad About Ourselves: Blame Obama!!
Going all the way back to 1995, various polling organizations have been studying Americans’ sense of whether the country is on the right or wrong track. The last time a minimum of 50% of respondents answered “right track” was at the end of 2003. (4) Notice, that is six years before Obama became president. From that point on, there has been an almost steady drift towards “wrong track” with at least 51% of poll respondents expressing that negative view.
In 2008, against that gloomy backdrop, Barack Obama appeared on the national stage with his soaring, inspiring rhetoric and message of “hope and change”. He took office in January 2009 along with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. It is possible that these factors combined to give the average citizen a sense of optimism; maybe we are headed towards brighter days in spite of being mired in the worst recession since the great depression.
During the next two years, progress was indeed made. The economy stopped hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of 700,000/month. The financial and auto industries were revived and the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) was passed. We had begun to slowly lift ourselves out of the ditch we were in. But, those gains weren’t enough for voters who made their dissatisfaction clear in the 2010 midterm by ending the Democrats’ majority in the House and costing them seats in the Senate. The malaise that gripped us going into the Obama presidency had not abated to any appreciable degree. Indeed, it was to get worse, but why?
Part of the answer to that question can be found in the steady drumbeat of invective hurled at the president and the ACA. The latter was a “socialist program” that was rammed through without any Republican input (5). In effect, the public was having its dissatisfaction reinforced with the attendant message “It’s even worse than you think”. This attack line from conservatives was completely predictable. What could not have been anticipated was how meekly the president’s supporters in the public eye allowed this narrative to take hold without a full-throated, vigorous defense that offered up a very different narrative. That Obama got re-elected in 2012 was probably a product of a fantastic get-out-the-vote effort by Democrats, and Republicans’ choice of a lackluster candidate in Mitt Romney.
However we account for the president gaining a second term, there is no question that the conservatives’ narrative about him and his policies was now being pushed relentlessly and in the face of little “blow-back” from Democrats. Note: The intent here is not to come down hard on Republicans, but rather on Obama’s own party. In the “messaging war” that is now such an integral part of our politics, the Democratic National Committee failed miserably.
Well ahead of this month’s election, the president’s approval rating was hovering around 45-47% as noted above. From whence did this strong disapproval come from? The view held here is from Democrats’ abject failure to beat down conservatives’ derogatory narrative. It did not have to be that way. There were plenty of counter-arguments, well-supported by hard evidence, that could have been made. They simply weren’t.
Without an alternative, valid, positive narrative, Obama supporters were given little incentive to go to the polls and vote for their man. Not surprisingly, voter turnout among Democrats and left-leaning demographic groups was pitiful. In contrast, conservatives turned out in droves, impelled by the message “If you feel bad about the country, blame it on Obama”.
During the next two years, watch for how Republicans modify their message: i.e. If you still feel like the country is on the wrong track, blame the Democrats and don’t expect a Democrat president to make it any better. If progressive do not work hard to create a more hopeful, reality-based narrative, then they will stand a real chance of losing the White House in 2016.
1. The bailout money given the banks and lending institutions has all been re-paid with interest.
2. Only part of the money that helped bail out GM and Chrysler has been repaid.
3. Recently, one part of Obama’s multi-faceted strategy for dealing with ISIS suffered a setback. Specifically, the anti-Assad Syrian rebels that he armed, albeit reluctantly, surrendered when confronted by the terrorists.
4. The two polling organizations with the longest histories of sampling the public’s “right track/wrong track” opinions are Gallup and the Wall Street Journal.
5. The claim that the ACA was pushed through without Congressional Republican input is, to state it bluntly, a lie. The ACA in its final form, included approximately 150 amendments that had been advanced by Republicans.