Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Secret of Obama's Popularity

Despite the fact that his popularity in the polls has dropped a bit lately, Barack Obama is still just about everyone's favorite President. In fact, he seems to remain amazingly popular no matter what he does. I mean it. I think the guy could say he hates babies, and burn the American flag on the front lawn of the White House, and the majority of Americans (and certainly the Muslim world in the case of the latter example) would still say he's great. What's this guy's secret? How does he get everyone to love him, regardless of his actions? Let's take a brief look at some of the events that I, in my humble opinion, think should make most reasonable American citizens (regardless of their politics) cringe. The most recent event that caught my attention, happened yesterday morning (or at least that's when I read it in the news), when two top White House officials stated that it was likely the President would have to raise taxes for the middle-class, to pay for his health care reforms. President Obama has since gone on record as saying he will not raise taxes for people making $250,000 or less a year (I consider myself middle class, but I don't make nearly that much), but of course, the rich are still up for grabs. I suppose (cynic that I am) that Obama could have had his officials release their "information" as a trial balloon to see how people would take it, then when the public balked, he went to the media and repudiated that statement. In fact, an Associated Press analysis said that raising taxes on the middle class would "be blow to his (Obama's) re-election chances in 2012 and would prove noxious to his party in the 2010 midterm elections". But people still want health care reform; they just don't want to pay for it (as if we won't in the end, anyway). Not too long ago, Obama gave an extremely attention getting speech in Cairo to the "Muslim world" in an attempt to repair U.S. relations with Islam. I suppose the assumption is that Obama's immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, deeply insulted Islam, widening the gulf between "us and them" (never mind that Islamic terrorism has been going on much, much longer than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). In President Obama's speech, he not only "made nice" with Muslims, he seemed to completely identify with them (which is rather odd for a guy who supposedly is a Christian). According to Washington Post commentator Frank J. Gaffney Jr, "Mr. Obama referred four times in his speech to 'the Holy Koran'," which is a reference typically used only by Muslims. Obama also said "I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed." Caffney said the term "revealed" "is a depiction Muslims use to reflect their conviction that the Koran is the word of God, as dictated to Muhammad". After invoking the names of the Prophets Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, Obama used the phrase "peace be upon them", which is only used by Muslims to bless deceased holy men. The American (and Christian) President seems to be at least bending over backwards, if not deliberately adopting a Muslim world view to forge an alliance with the Islamic world. While in and of itself, fence mending isn't a bad thing to do, should the American President surrender his stated national and religious identity to accomplish this task? Would Mr. Obama refer to the "Holy Torah" and say "Blessed is He" after invoking Jacob or Moses when talking to Jews in Israel? Speaking of which, the Cairo speech didn't do anything to score points with Israeli columnist Naomi Ragen in her June 10th commentary. She states that, beyond forging new bonds with Islam, terrorist organization Hamas (yes, the same Hamas that holds the people of Gaza in a concentration camp of terror, and who has retained IDF soldier Gilad Shalit as a captive for over three years now) has gained new hope for their cause (the destruction of the State of Israel and the expulsion or murder of all Israeli Jews) by the Obama speech in Egypt. Of course, President Obama's stance on Israel's continuing to build settlements in their own country hasn't exactly endeared him to our long-time ally, and the only democratic nation in that region. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer states that Obama claims "that American foreign policy be conducted with modesty and humility", yet the President seems to experience no hesitation in dictating conditions and terms about the internal matters of only one country on the planet: Israel. Doesn't that seem like the President is talking out of both sides of his mouth? On a somewhat lighter note, Mr. Obama had a small social gathering at the White House last week. With Vice-President Biden, Obama welcomed "black scholar" (sorry, but that's how the news media continually refers to him) Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge Police Officer James Crowley over for what is sometimes (but incorrectly, according to Obama) referred to as the beer summit. This was Obama's response to his criticism of Officer Crowley's actions in arresting Gates as "stupid". Numerous police agencies immediately objected to Mr. Obama's comments and demanded an apology. Other Cambridge officers, including an African-American officer who was at the scene of the arrest, supported Crowley and said that he acted in a completely appropriate and legal manner. The entire event has been used as fodder for various political cartoons and late night show comedians. Yet, has the President's reputation and credibility been damaged all that much? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has certainly gotten into some hot water after the recent elections in that country, and though protests continue, Ahmadinejad has been endorsed by Iran's Supreme Leader. According to one political cartoonist, it seems amazing that one President should be completely rejected for his unpopular behavior while another is wholeheartedly rewarded. What is Barack Obama's secret? How does he always come out smelling like a rose (yes, I'm exaggerating, but not by that much)? Why does it seem that in the eyes of the majority of Americans, this guy can do no wrong? Actually, the answer is simple. It's because of George W. Bush. By the time Bush left office, he was one of the most loathed Presidents who had ever served his nation. I remember that his one and only public appearance in Canada, after leaving office, was a dismal failure. People were standing in line to insult, scream at, and generally spew hate and evil in his direction. Bush has wisely kept a low profile since then and probably should for the foreseeable future. Bush was so disliked by the end of his second term, even by much of the GOP, that you probably could have gotten Jack the Ripper, Hannibal Lecter, or Lizzie Borden elected to replace him, if that was the only way to get rid of Bush (although Hillary Clinton apparently wasn't an option). Ok, that's not exactly fair. Obviously, people voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers for other reasons than he was just a warm body and looked cuter than Bush. He promised the American people something they desperately wanted after eight years of the Bush administration. He promised change. During Obama's campaign, I was trying to figure out exactly what sort of change he was offering. It never seemed very clear to me what his platform was, except that whatever Bush represented, Obama would do the opposite. That obviously seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended up (in my opinion) being the equivalent of a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage. This isn't exactly a new trick. Politicians have been getting elected by promising people everything they want, probably since their has been such a thing as politics (which means, a very long time). Everybody wants to have all of their desires fulfilled, especially if somebody else says they'll do all the work and that they'll pay all the bills. That brings us right back to the present day. Obama was elected largely because he was going to be different than Bush and pretty much different than the Washington political machine that we've all become used to (party lines notwithstanding). That sounds good. I'd like to see a change from the status quo as well. It would be refreshing to have a President who really represented the people for a change, and not his (or her) political party (and personal agenda). Sadly, I don't think we have that kind of President. I'm not entirely convinced he always serves his party's interests (though most of the time, he does), but I am sure he serves his own internal agenda a great deal of the time. Messiah Obama has promised the country and the world that he would give them everything they want. He's an adept salesman and has managed to convince everyone that he could really pull it off. While reality is slowly dawning on America, the vast majority still see him as the greatest thing since the invention of the iPod. But what happens when someone like me does (successfully) criticize the President? What happens when someone questions something Obama has done that makes his supporters pause and register concern? They come back with "He's a lot better than Bush". That's the secret. That's the key to Obama's success. No matter what he does or how much of our money (which neither the national coffers nor we as citizens have) Obama spends, the response is "he's better than Bush". There still remains such a national "sigh of relief" that "Dubya" is no longer in the White House, that we tend to gloss over whatever "issues" Obama may have. We tend to see Obama through the lens of the Bush years, and that softens the view, obliterating the harsh wrinkles and scars, letting us see only the Obama beauty and charm. Reality check. Bush is gone. We can only hammer on what Obama inherited from the previous administration for so long. Bush inherited his mess from Clinton, and Clinton inherited his mess from Daddy Bush before him. The beat goes on. At some point, Obama has to be appraised as an objective person and President, independent of who or what came before him. Obama's actions are his own and need to be seen in that light, not in the comfortable glow of "Bush is finally gone". Given the American public's ADHD-like attention span, I'm surprised that the use of the Bush legacy has endured to this point. Love him or hate him, just look at Barack Obama for who and what he is, not who you think he's better than. Making him "the greatest President that ever lived", just because the guy who came before him was "the President you love to hate" doesn't cut it. It's not fair to the nation and it's not even fair to Obama. I was never a Bush fan. I'm a conservative, but I don't care about party politics. From what I can see, the two major political parties in this country are pretty much the same on the level of their process. Only a few superficial details are changed around. I look at the decisions Obama makes, the words he says, and how it all seems to add up. I don't think about Bush when I'm thinking about Obama. When I consider Obama's policies, it's compared to what I understand as "common sense" (if such a thing exists). All I'm saying is, don't love Obama because you hated Bush. Look at what Obama is doing, the result (not the promises...promises are worth the air they're printed on), and what it means. Does it really make sense for the President to plummet this country into the largest deficit ever, just to give the people what makes them feel good? Yes, fixing health care is necessary and it would be wonderful, but (how can I say this strongly enough?) SOMEBODY HAS TO PAY FOR IT! Seen in that perspective and in the light of what I've been trying to say, is Barack Obama really that terrific?