Obama’s New LowAnthony Gregory • Thursday August 18, 2011 7:56 AM PDT •
The president’s approval rating on the economy has dipped to a record low. Seventy-one percent disapprove, according to Gallup. His overall rating has fallen from above 50% to around 40% in just three months. Fifty-five percent disapprove of his management of the Afghanistan war.
Obama has tried to attribute the persistent economic slump, which he claims was on the road to being washed away by recovery, to bad luck. He blames the other side of the aisle for his policy failures. He says that tough conditions have tied his hands.
Only a year or so ago, every failure was to be blamed on George W. Bush. For the first half a year in office, the president reminded us of the mess that his predecessor left. After that, he would simply point out that this mess was bigger than anyone seemed to realize. Now that isn’t working so well, so his excuses are the happenings in the markets, global tensions, partisan bickering, unpredictable fluctuations in the economy, natural disasters—you know, all the stuff he was elected promising to have more capacity to command than the last guy.
The foreign policy component is interesting because it is so difficult to plausibly blame on anyone else. Modern presidents never tire or reminding us that they are the commander in chief, that they call the shots on military matters, and this is mostly true. Obama liked to blame Bush for the mess left in Iraq. Putting that all aside, he certainly was not bound to continue, massively expand, and repeatedly recommit to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Now even many conservatives seem to want out of that war. This is a disaster he chose to take on for himself. He had the political capital to be less belligerent than Bush, even if not by the margin I’d like to see America move toward peace with other nations. He instead moved in the opposite direction on Afghanistan and several other foreign policy fronts. This was not forced on him. It was his choice.
The good news is Americans are apparently wising up to the hope-and-change rhetoric. They want Obamacare repealed. They want the wars to wind down. They do not believe either party in Washington. What is troubling, however, is the electoral prospects for change in the near future.
During these election seasons, most political discourse is at an even less thoughtful level than usual. It’s been a while since I’ve linked to one of my favorite bloggers—probably my favorite liberal blogger—Glenn Greenwald, who sums the situation up perfectly:
A presidential term is 48 months; that the political media is transfixed by campaign coverage for 18 months every cycle means that a President can wield power with substantially reduced media attention for more than 1/3 of his term. Thus, he can wage a blatantly illegal war in Libya for months on end, work to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past his repeatedly touted deadline, scheme to cut Social Security and Medicare as wealth inequality explodes and thereby please the oligarchical base funding his campaign, use black sites in Somalia to interrogate Terrorist suspects, all while his Party’s Chairwoman works literally to destroy Internet privacy—all with virtually no attention paid.
Paradoxically, nothing is more effective in distracting citizenry attention away from events of genuine political significance than the protracted carnival of presidential campaigns.
A “carnival” is a great way of putting it. Hopefully, with the souring economy on people’s minds, media attention on Ron Paul, who does like to make substantive points about war, civil liberties, and free enterprise, and a public disillusioned with both parties, there is a little more hope than usual that this election cycle will yield some thoughtful discussion in the press. Even if not, we can at least take some comfort in Obama’s new lows in popularity. They do not only reduce his chances for political success in the future; they restrain his effective ability to govern today. He still has massive power, obviously—more than anyone else on the planet—but his agenda is somewhat constrained by public discontent with his administration. Any form of government, from democracy to dictatorship, requires the acquiescence of the people to get away with its program in the long run. America’s form of government at times seems to fall somewhere in the middle, but this sociological fact is no less true of the United States than for Egypt or Switzerland.