Approval and reality

Why Obama is losing support in Portland

I did not vote for President Barack Obama.

In retrospect, I believe he has done a far better job than McCain would have. I may vote for him in 2012. I am a registered Republican, though I consider myself a social liberal. As a president, I would rate Obama somewhere in the neighborhood of C+ or B- (Bush, I’d give a solid D). I find myself in agreement with roughly 60 percent of his policies. I like his approach of equanimity and reservedness. On the same note, I believe he wavers in his initiative to make decisions. I am fondest of his foreign policy doctrine. I am most disappointed by his priorities on the home front.

In 2008, the man was as untouchable a politician as there ever had been in American politics. Massive approval ratings, loved by the media, charismatic personality and an eight-year legacy of dismal prospects upon which to improve. This was the honeymoon phase of Obama the superstar.

Late 2011: Obama the politician. I won’t lie. Every time I hear someone lament that “he was supposed to change everything, fix everything and please everyone—but then he totally didn’t!” I groan for the sad state of humanity. This apparent failing of the Obama administration to change its lofty ideals into actual legislation is a classic example of political dynamism called reality. Politicians making wild promises beyond the power of the office they yearn for securing votes through brainless invocations of pathos and (“Yes we can!”) cheap sentiment? What next?

A recent survey placed approval of Obama in Oregon, like the rest of the nation, at less than 50 percent. Those who disapprove of Obama’s job can generally be divided into two camps—those who believe he failed to live up to the goals he made for himself and those who believe he has been far too successful at pushing policy they never approved of in the first place.

I have only good things to say about Obama’s foreign policy doctrine. His predecessor’s model relied on pre-defined responses to given challenges, namely unilateral action and overwhelming force with minimal financial restraint. The Obama doctrine opts instead for flexibility, multilateral cooperation and surgical application of force (see his interesting penchant for the Predator drone), as was seen in the Libya campaign earlier this year. Critics have attacked the supposed absence of a well-defined, general global strategy. I say that global affairs are many and diverse and that an overarching strategy for any two given problems is both ineffectual and counterproductive.

Diplomatically, his approach is weak. Obama has never done well at courting those who disagree with him, both domestically and internationally. He is certainly adept at stoking fervor among supporters and sympathizers. For this reason, he still finds his most overwhelming approval and disapproval divided firmly among Democratic and Republican constituencies, respectively.

The biggest factor in all this is, of course, jobs. It is unfair to blame Obama for the miserable state of the United States economy. Reversing the damage done over the previous eight years is bound to be a long slog, with predictions for a return to normalcy around the year 2017 probably the most feasible.

There is certainly an argument to be made that, while full recovery may take some time, at least a small improvement could be made under the right circumstances. Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton managed to do so (at a similar starting point in the unemployment rate) roughly three years into office. Unfortunately for Obama, and approximately 9 percent of the labor force, this even minor improvement continues to elude us.

For those who’ve known since 2008 that they would vote for Obama again in 2012, the forecast is not all bad. While it is true that Obama’s current approval ratings are among the lowest of his presidency (following a brief spike after the death of Osama bin Ladin), they hardly indicate a lost cause. Reagan’s second term was secured by the most overwhelming victory in American history, after middling in approval ratings similar to Obama’s at a corresponding time in his presidency. Consequently, George H. W. Bush managed to lose reelection, in spite of approval ratings in the lofty 70th percentile scarcely a year prior to the election.

It is better to retain what credibility I have by refraining from political predictions. Suffice it to say that, whatever the numbers may indicate, 2012 is far from decided.



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