Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I guess they expected Barack magic.

UPDATE, Saturday, December 12. I invite all those who peevishly blame the president for what's been happening (or not happening) in Washington to take a look at this poll, just out on You will recall that Obama, throughout his campaign, advocated a so-called "public option" as part of healthcare reform, and he has continued to fight for it during the tumult of the past several months. The poll linked above shows that just under 60 percent of Americans, overall, favor a public option. Among Democratswhose elected officials theoretically control the White House as well as both houses of Congressthe figure is 80 percent. Even a full one-third of Republicans favor the plan. And yet we can't seem to get it done in the obstructivist, gamesmanship-dominated, lobbyist-inflected climate within today's Beltway.


While we're on the subject of politics, major governmental initiatives, political biases and all that, I must say I am astounded, absolutely astounded, by what's been happening to Obama's approval numbers. Understand, I'm not so much astounded by the fact that it's happening. Nothing surprises me anymore, certainly not in politics or government. I'm astounded by what the decline tells me, again, about my fellow Americans, who not only want everything, but apparently want it done yesterday.

I can see how Obama's policies (and, maybe more so, his populist views) wouldn't have won him any converts among the GOP. Fair enough. GOP loyalists are going to hate him a little bit more for every new policy he enacts. But the precipitous decline in the approval ratings
to the point where he could easily slip quite soon to a position where a plurality (if not a majority) of Americans disapprovesays clearly that a fair number of those who voted for the man have jumped ship. Already. Whether you supported him to begin with, as I did, or not, let's review what Barack Obama was up against. No sooner did he take the oath of office than he had to figure out:

  • what to do about Iraq and the war on terror as a whole
  • what to do about entire industries on the verge of collapse
  • what do do about a wider economy and job market that were in free fall
  • how to prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes
  • how to unstick a credit market that had slowed to nothing
  • how to go about ensuring healthcare coverage for all Americans, and
  • how to restore confidence in the stock market
Those are just the major issues, and I'm pretty sure I must have forgotten at least one or two others. Today, though the economy is hardly humming along, and healthcare remains a partisan (and even internecine) hornet's nest, most of the above-listed problems are no longer at crisis stage.

So do these latest approval numbers really say that at least some of the voters who supported Obama expected him to fix all these problems, once and for all, in 10 months or less? Amid the highly polarized, obstructionist climate that is Washington, D.C.?

I can only shake my head.


And, for our daily moment of hilarity... As I write this I'm listening to a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, Jenice Armstrong, explain why so many black women are especially upset with Tiger Woods. Is it because he's a lying no-good pig? No. Is it because he's reinforcing the negative stereotype of black men that already exists in some precincts? No. Is it because he's a black dude who "made it out," made it big, yet all that success still wasn't enough for him? No.

It's because he picks white women to cheat with.

That's right. Black women are upset, says Armstrong, because Tiger doesn't like to dishonor his marriage with them. Once more I can only fall back on the words of the immortal Dave Barry: I swear, I am not making this up.


Martha said...

Where is it written that the reason why his approval ratings have plummeted because of his speed -- or lack thereof?

He fell in esteem in the Finney household (all four of us, but only one of us can vote) because of his friends and associates. Folks like Anita "I Heart Mao" Dunn. And Andy Stern. And Acorn "Just say you're a performing artist." And Vance "I'll put on a suit if it helps me revolutionize the country" Jones. And on and on and on.

roger o'keefe said...

You laugh off the Tiger Woods item. I think it's more important than that, and it goes back to your comments about wanting a race-less world. Most people who take that position act as if whites are the problem. Items like this show there's plenty of distrust and I dare say anti-white racism in the black community too. Your story today reminds me of the OJ jury, which made up its mind that it simply wasn't going to convict a black man of brutally murdering his white wife, who they hated just for being white. It's appalling.

Steve Salerno said...

Martha: Will all due respect, I think most Americans wouldn't mind having the evil spawn of Attila the Hun and Lucretia Borgia in office, if he/she/it could fix the problems alluded to in my post. I think we are very much at the point where that old Clintonism--"it's the economy, stupid"--applies in spades. Also, I tend to doubt that most of the folks who supported Barack in the first place would be horribly upset by the names you cite and the circumstances they evoke (considering that they--and I--were willing to shrug off Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers etc.)

I say again: I understand the contempt from the Republicans (and those who recently turn to FOX for their information. Wink). I don't understand the sudden loss of love among Democrats.

RevRon's Rants said...

Beyond the juvenile impatience, Steve, I think that we're seeing an already toxic ideological polarization coming to a head. The "conservatives" don't hesitate throwing under a bus anyone (including their own) who doesn't parrot the far-right playbook, and the "liberals" do the same to any who don't follow the far-left playbook. The upside is that both ends of the radical spectrum are becoming increasingly marginalized and irrelevant.

Unless some heretofore hidden (VERY well hidden) Republican who has an impeccable track record and the right charisma shows up in 2012, I seriously doubt that the institutionalized whining (opinion polls) will be reflected in the voting booths. And if the Republicans are somehow convinced to nominate Palin, Obama will have a lock.

Anonymous said...

What gets me is haven't we tried the other way long enough? I'd thought we'd have had it with people who shout "free enterprise!" when it really means their freedom to accumulate an ever bigger slice of your pie and the GDP. Capitalism with no strings doesn't work. You end up with a few rich people and lots of poor people. The only reason we have a middle class at all right now is the process isn't complete, so the rich haven't yet squeezed all of that money into their own pockets. See Michael Moore's new movie if you haven't.

Martha said...

Personally I don't get the Palin thing. Over-rated, over-exposed, under-effective. So my hope is that by 2011 she will be considered SO 2008/9.

If our nation becomes Barack acolytes simply because he manages to save our financial fannies -- without any concern about the long-term costs -- I'm very worried that it will be a Faustian bargain (and make me selfishly grateful I don't have children).

His associates are so overtly radical, and every day seems to uncover yet another person whose past, present and spouses are highly suspect. It is truly taken from the Radical Left playbook (read The Destructive Generation or Radical Son by David Horowitz).

Them old hard-line radical, New Left hippies and revolutionaries clean up right nice now they can afford tailored suits and are mature enough now to recognize the political expediences of sheep's clothing.

We're not talking garden variety Democrats here. We're talking really scary people. And when he tells SEIU/ACORN that "your agenda is my agenda," he gets scary too.

Steve: I really would like to see where it is written that America is impatient with the pokey progress of change. Given my own migration to Fox, and the fact that Fox ratings are skyrocketing by subterraneans like me, I think a lot of people are saying to themselves, "I'm liberal but I sure as hell am not radical."

We were all enamored by the idea of a transformed country (I mean, who doesn't want a fresh start after the break of faith that the W admin imposed on us?). But I'm thinking we were all under this group fantasy of what that change might look like without really getting into specifics.

I don't think most of us would have tolerated the idea that Ms. Me Likee Mao or Mr. Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Pen would be so comfy in the White House. At personal introduction of Mr. Obama himself or his BFF Valerie Jarrett.

And who back in 1970 would have ever dreamed that the Weathermen would be one degree separation from 1600 Pennsylvania?

All the while, sober, level-headed individuals who might be thinking "hmmmm, maybe not" must keep their mouths shut for fear of being scorned by their social circles.

These are the reasons I think Obama's ratings have come tumbling after.

Martha said...

Re Anon's comments about free enterprise...Yeah, the greed and corruption in the financial world has also been revolting. But strings attached? Who is in charge of those strings? And who pulls them? Couldn't possibly be the Obama administration which is rife with tax cheats, a check kiter. And just a smidge of these people have had any private sector experience at all. Even Larry Summers went against the advice of his circle to follow his own judgment and lost billions out of the Harvard endowment.

This actually goes back to one of Steve's earlier posts. We've got to raise our children better, to make them more morally responsible, and to become better citizens of the world and the family of man.

So when something's not right, they would say so without being ostracized or fired.

Systemic, societal greed/corruption isn't going dissolved or prevented by government fiat. It will just get displaced, only to show up elsewhere.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Couldn't possibly be the Obama administration which is rife with tax cheats, a check kiter."

Martha - Suggest you look a bit more closely into how we actually got into this mess (and who got us there). Clue: It ain't the guy who's been in the White house all of 10 months.

I'll grant that there are some radicals in the mix now, but if we're to cause the pendulum to swing back toward the center, we've got to have sufficient impetus to pull it back from the direction it was swinging for 8+ years.

Obama's not the messiah, and he can't solve all our problems overnight (or at all, to be honest). But I still think he represents the best chance we've got at this point in time. I'd suggest that any country that put up with Bush's shenanigans for eight years could stand to give the new guy a little longer before going for a rope. We've seen the damage that is done when decisions are made without sufficient thought.

Martha said...

Rev: No one's "pulling the rope" on Obama. The guy still has three years. And among the many lessons we learned during the previous 8, one is we shouldn't blindly trust our chief executive. I think we all need to be much more actively involved in what's going on in Washington and not be swayed by any political loyalty one way or the other. The question, "who did you vote for?" was one of the reasons why I left DC 10 years ago. (So much happier here west of the Pecos.)

But I also think that using the swinging pendulum as an apt metaphor for our national response to the last 8 years is very bad national management tool. A wrong pendulum swing won't pull us back to the center, it will just send us off in another wrong direction. Counting on the metaphorical pendulum is no way to drive the country into a healthy future.

If you and I were sailing to, say, Hawaii (Connie can come too! But you might want to wear a shirt, the ozone layer being what it is and all) and we point the bow too far north, we'll end up in Alaska.(Howdy do Sarah!)

Naturally we have to course correct. But the answer isn't to throw the bow in an equally wrong direction (only an opposite one). We'd end up in Australia (which would actually be alright by me).

And there's no comfort in us reassuring ourselves that "yes, we're heading in the wrong direction. But look at our boat! At least it's not the boat we had last year."

We're in the boat we're in now (sort of a nautical version of Katie Byron's expression of "loving what is"...only kidding). That's what we got. And I think there's no margin for error, not only in terms of our course but also in terms of our crew. Because we're going to have them for 3 more years.

If we're not on the right path, God only knows where we'll end up. (And the boat might be in hock to China in the bargain.)

But...notice that I stipulated a sailboat! It may be elitist, but at least there will be no carbon emissions.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, a drop in poll numbers is to be expected for anyone who, like Obama, rode such a huge wave of popularity. Now the honeymoon is over and reality bites more than usual, so people are more impatient than usual.

This is not the end of the political world for Obama, although he has managed to make enemies not only among the usual suspects on the right, but also among liberally-minded folk, as you have noticed, who are disappointed with his policies.

As to Obama's "radical friendships," if they have any influence on him, it certainly does not show in his governance, which is firmly right off center (thus the disappointment among liberals).

Cal said...

I think the reaction of blacks (and black women) to Tiger Woods' situation is a little bit more involved than the writer of the article insinuates. I have had this conversation with many of my black friends, even in the '90s when Woods first came on the seen as a pro golfer.

It's just that many of us are of the opinion that he probably never dated a black (or even Asian) woman in his life. I'm not sure if he really has had any black friends in his life. (In fact, I just watched the tape of the porn star who claimed she had sex with Woods at his bachelor party and she said he was the "whitest black man".) Now, it's a free country and you can pick and choose who you want to associate with. So I can't hate on him because it's his choice.

Yes...part of it is that he played golf from a young age. And honestly, golf and tennis still don't anywhere near the participation levels of blacks as the main sports in the USA. So I'm sure he never really dealt with blacks in any meaningful manner. I know he went to Stanford, and I'm sure the schools he went to pre-college probably also had very few blacks.

Now, it's a different world so I don't fault him like many black figures from the '60s for speaking out about any civil rights issues. He's probably never faced any meaningful racism in his life, so he can't speak to that subject. (And as Michael Jordan famously said when he refused to get involved in civil rights issues "Republicans buy sneakers too." But when Fuzzy Zoeller made a bigoted comment, and when the female sportscaster on the Golf Channel made a remark about "lynch him in a back alley", in both instances Woods' response was just to shrug it off. Now I don't know looking in retrospect whether Woods did not respond in anger to those comments because he knew that many in the professional golf circles (players, media, etc.) knew the life he was leading. So either Zoeller or the sportscaster could have called him out then if he rebuked them.

Roger, I took heat from some black people cause I thought Simpson was guilty based on the DNA evidence. Although I thought Mark Fuhrman was a racist, he couldn't have done all that alleged stuff to the crime scene to frame Simpson and not get caught. So it was a case of jury nullification. But my question to you is": Do you become appalled if you hear a white person who make a snide comment on a white woman (or man) for dating or marrying a black man (or woman)? And if you are bothered by it, do you call them on it? Because trust me, the hatred shows up in both races with regards to inter-racial relationships. That's why it takes a thick skin to be involved in one.

Steve, I'm not sure if you've heard Limbaugh's comments on the matter. He claims that blacks are depressed because of Obama's performance in regards to reducing unemployment, as well as Woods' choices of mistresses. Yeah...okay Rush, if you say so.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: Thanks for weighing in here. I had hoped you would, and you didn't disappoint. (I'm not saying I'm endorsing what you say 100 percent, but it would be interesting to see what response you get, if any.)

Martha et al: I think we need to be very careful about the operative metaphor we use in describing a given turn of events, especially a complex turn of events such as we've witnessed over the past, say, 8-10 years. If one allows another person to establish the metaphor through which an event is viewed, then often one paints one's self into a corner from the outset and any counterarguments are bound to seem flawed. I reject Martha's "ship is off course" metaphor. It's more a case of having a nation on the verge of sinking, and having to take whatever emergency steps you must take to prevent that from happening. I discourage people from thinking that some of the stuff Obama has done would represent his approach to governance in a business-as-usual environment. This is not business as usual. When FDR famously declared his "bank holiday" in 1933, he was not saying through his actions that he was philosophically opposed to banks and that there shouldn't be any banks forevermore; rather he was saying "OK, let's stop this right now and take stock of where we are before any further--possibly irrecoverable--damage can occur." Similarly during WWII entire industries were effectively (if not explicitly) nationalized in order to fuel the war effort. And when the war was over, things reverted to normal.

When Obama came to office he was thrust into the equivalent of "economic war." Nobody--certainly not an Obama--would, under normal circumstances, blithely hand billions of dollars to car manufacturers (or vote to do so to financial institutions, as Obama did as a senator) to prop up their operations, especially given the very real risk that relatively little of that money would funnel its way down to workers. These are not normal times. And while there's no question that Obama leans left in his thinking, very little of the past 10 months has been about leaning left or leaning right, I think: It's been more about trying desperately to keep the nation upright.

I still don't think a lot of people realize how easily the entire national fabric could have unraveled. And while things look a bit brighter, I'd also discourage anyone from thinking that we're entirely out of the woods. There are still dangerous bogs and predators ahead.

Elizabeth said...

Limbaugh's (...) claims that blacks are depressed because of Obama's performance in regards to reducing unemployment, as well as Woods' choices of mistresses. Yeah...okay Rush, if you say so.

LOL! Cal, indeed -- because who knows "the black frame of mind" better than Rushbo?

RevRon's Rants said...

"And among the many lessons we learned during the previous 8, one is we shouldn't blindly trust our chief executive."

Perhaps the lesson we need to learn now is that having seen our trust betrayed before isn't a logical justification for blindly *distrusting* our new chief executive. Again, the pendulum swings wide, when we would be better served if it did not.

I never implied (or thought) that the overarching swing of the pendulum was an effective tool - for governance or anything else. It is simply a metaphor describing the true nature of things' reaction to stimuli, especially human nature, of which, government is a caricature. I merely observed the trend.

In many (too many?!) of my past comments, I have described the need for balance, even as I acknowledge that human interactions tend toward the wide pendulum swings of overreaction. If we were collectively willing to look objectively and act logically, those wide swings could be avoided, and our wide course corrections would end. And if frogs had wings, they'd never bump their butts.

Elizabeth said...

OK, Steve, I know you swore you were not making this up, but I'm reading and rereading Armstrong's piece and do not see anything there about black women being upset about Tiger cheating on his wife with white floozies only.

She quotes an AP article:

An Associated Press headline from Sunday read "Tiger's Troubles Widens his Distance from Blacks." The story went on to say, "When three white women were said to be romantically involved with Woods in addition to his blonde, Swedish wife, blogs, airwaves and barbershops started humming, and Woods' already tenuous standing among many blacks took a beating."

I don't see Armstrong say that black women are upset with Tiger for choosing white, um, mistresses, and especially that they are upset about this particular aspect of the affair, in contrast with his overall pig-like behavior,* as you say in your post.

Unless I have missed it somewhere...?

*With apologies to pigs.

Frances said...

Excellent point, Steve:

I discourage people from thinking that some of the stuff Obama has done would represent his approach to governance in a business-as-usual environment. This is not business as usual.

But I do wonder if his decision to let his DOJ give a de facto pass to John Yoo/Jay Bybee/etc. also comes under this "not business as usual" category. There's a positively brutal diary on the front page of Daily Kos now, and overall I wonder why he's taking that particular action, so antithetical to everything about the rule of law...

Could it be, in fact, that the Bush administration's abuses of power were perfectly legal? Is what Obama is now doing, reflective of a successful law change on behalf of Bush and friends some years ago? Because you remember, Steve... they changed a LOT of laws for their own benefit.

Elizabeth said...

Speaking of Obama's lost magic, check out Matt Taibbi's latest piece, Obama's Big Sellout, in Rolling Stone.

Here is the opening paragraph, and the closing one at the bottom (for the good stuff in-between, go to the article):

Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.

Then he got elected.

What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.


What's most troubling is that we don't know if Obama has changed, or if the influence of Wall Street is simply a fundamental and ineradicable element of our electoral system. What we do know is that Barack Obama pulled a bait-and-switch on us. If it were any other politician, we wouldn't be surprised. Maybe it's our fault, for thinking he was different.

Anonymous said...

Most of the American public are not divided on ideologies or partisan lines, but upon what is best for them in the short run. Obama promised the world, and failed to deliver... his decrease in popularity is to be expected, as the people realize he's just one more lying politician in the pack. (And yes, political idealism aside, they ALL lie, just most aren't as eloquent and uplifting as him.)

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 5:49: Your comment illustrates my point in a nutshell: Whether you love the guy or hate the guy or you were willing to "wait and see," how can you say after 10 months that he "failed to deliver"! That is the limit of our national patience in dealing with the sorts of complex, meta-level issues we're facing today?

Elizabeth said...

Steve, the problem with Obama, as I see it, is that the Obama from the campaign is very different from the Obama-President. While a candidate, he promised things that he's backed away from now. He went from "Yes, we can!" to "No, not really."

He was not "my" candidate, but I voted for him, simply because the alternative was unthinkable. Having done that, I too had hopes that he would do "the right thing" once in office -- he promised, after all. (Yeah, I know.)

Now we can see how Obama works: he promises grand things (and, as Anon says, all politicos do), says that he will carefully weigh all the available options, listen closely to experts from all sides, and make the right decision after his careful deliberation.

Well, he is almost truthful on that: he does listen and take his time to think problems over, but then does the conventional thing, which is not necessarily the right thing.

Health reform: he promised a public option and controls on drug prices, among major things. As of today, public option is RIP, and the health care reform shapes up to be a major giveaway to the medical-insurance cartel, drug prices included (thanks to the behind-closed-doors sweet deal with PhRma in the summer). Oh, he thought about it, alright, but decided that sticking with the status quo, in terms of leaving health care in hands of profiteers, is politically more palatable (and doable). Thus we are screwed.

Banks and finances in general: as a candidate, he promised a reform of the system, which would be based on accountability and responsibility. In practice, he helped deliver, along with Bush, a massive financial windfall -- of our money -- to the largest banks, who created the crisis in the first place, without any change or accountability on their part. Oh, yes, he gave a couple of stern speeches, shaming the greedy SOBs into good behavior. That worked splendidly. They all laughed their way to their respective banks, continuing their business as usual. These bonuses have never been so big or so sweet as now, when backed by guarantees of perpetual bailouts in the future. What's not to like?

Don't tell me that if we can mandate that every American citizen be privately insured -- or else, we cannot mandate that bankers check in their greed at the door and stop using "too big to fail" as a reason to pillage and plunder our society. But hey, they can just scowl and say, "We don't like no stinkin' regulation" and our lawmakers willingly oblige.

Afghanistan: Obama promised not to continue stupid and immoral wars. He took his sweet time to think about what the right thing was -- and what he did is what every American president involved in a stupid and immoral war does: escalated our commitment to it.

The Obama-president is very different from the Obama-candidate, even I can see that. Far from being an agent of change, he is more of the same ol'. Bush lite, as some say.

I don't envy his job and I know what a horrendous mess he inherited, no question about it. Plus we have a clearly dysfunctional Congress, and the political system as the whole, where influence is for sale to the highest bidder -- and that's never "the people." Some call it corporate welfare, or socialism for the wealthy -- and they are right, IMO. So it's not necessarily Obama's fault. Even if he were the Messiah, it'd be hard to turn this political and social behemoth around.

But ten months is plenty of time to let people see where he is going. And he is going where all the others before him went: maintaining the dysfunctional status quo at all costs, so as not to upset the apple cart of the rich and powerful.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Such sweeping political indictments--so clearly backed by the full force of your moral fury--leave me speechless. I think at this point I'll have to recuse myself from this discussion, leave it to others to sort out for now, and hope to be vindicated later.

Elizabeth said...

Moral fury, you say... LOL. Perhaps. Likely.

The higher our expectations, the more unrealistic they are -- and the deeper our disappointment when they are inevitably unmet. And I am disappointed -- expected too much, obviously.

I (...) hope to be vindicated later.

I hope so too -- that you'll be vindicated later, though (continuing with my "moral fury" theme) I'd like to point out that this is not, I hope, about our personal vindication (as in, "I was right and you were wrong" in either direction), but about doing what's right for the country -- you know, for "the people."

And I'm afraid we are not doing things right so far. As you so well said it in your following (today's) post with respect to our finances and the growing divide between the haves and have-nots.

Elizabeth said...

OK, Steve 'n all, to be fair, this is a list of Obama's 90 accomplishments so far, unreported or under-reported by the media. (Sharing it here so that some impatient libruls, like yours truly, can catch a breath. For now.)