If anyone had said five years ago that President Obama's popularity rating would nosedive to the dreadful level of George W. Bush's ratings the last years of his presidency, they'd be fitted for a strait-jacket. Obama's popularity ratings at that point had soared past 70 percent and there was the firm consensus that his numbers would stay comfortably high and that no matter how rocky things got during his tenure, they could never bottom out to Bush's abysmal numbers.
The recent CNN/ORC International poll seems to show that the worst has happened and that Obama's popularity rating now is virtually identical with Bush's low rating. The added insult is that Bush seems to be getting more popular with his numbers on the uptick. There are two ways to look at this. One is that Bush had sunk so low in popularity ratings by the time he left office that he had nowhere to go but up and that it's easy for the public to wax nostalgically about and to even find a few good things to say and think about an ex-president years removed from office than a president who sits in the office. This is made even easier by the constant barrage from the GOP's inveterate Obama bashers playing up Bush's alleged accomplishments while relentlessly pile driving Obama's supposed failures.
That's the other way to look at Obama's drop. In the backwash of now defrocked former House Majority leader Eric Cantor's ouster from Congress, it's worth remembering Cantor was a prime ringleader of the now infamous dinner meeting the night of Obama's first inauguration in January 2009. Their sole goal was to figure out everything they could do to dither, delay and flat out obstruct any and every initiative and piece of legislation, as well as key nominees, that Obama pushed, while savagely harassing and defaming his key appointees, most notably Attorney General Eric Holder and former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius.
This was the front door assault plan. The GOP's backdoor strategy was to wink and nod at the dirty smear campaign from the coterie of right wing talk show hosts, bloggers and web sites that lambasted Obama with an avalanche of subtle and outright racist digs, barbs, taunts and harangues. The dual strategy had one aim and that was to make him a failed one term president, and failing that, a failed presidency. The added key to making that work was to play up to the hilt any and every real or perceived stumble. The NSA spy debacle, the lingering anger over Benghazi, the AP leaks, the worry over the Affordable Health Care Act website glitches, and the Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap, and now the militant Islamist insurgency in Iraq are prime examples.
The GOP gloat that Obama is now no better than Bush in the public's eye still falls appalling flat. Bush's miserable record on the two greatest issues that matter the most to Americans are glaring proof of that. They are the economy and war. Bush hit the skids the second go round because of public souring on a failed, flawed and financially and human-draining war, and a financial collapse that had much to do with his disastrous two tax cuts that gave away the company store to corporations and the rich and sent the budget deficit skyrocketing. In glaring contrast, Obama's fiscal and budgetary record shows steady joblessness drops, a deficit drop, and an unprecedented surge in the markets that ironically has made more millions for many of the corporate rich that pile onto the assault against Obama.
His wind down of the Iraq and Afghan war has been a special sore point for GOP hawks who never tire of telling all who'll listen that this supposedly puts Americans at horrible risk from terrorism and war. It's bunk. Obama simply fulfilled commitments that were already in place to disengage the American military in both countries -- commitments that are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Bush can lay claim to none of these achievements.
But laying aside for a moment the silly notion that Obama is as bad as Bush, the brutal political reality is that past presidents have certainly had their share of second term woes. This was the case with Eisenhower, Nixon, of course, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton. This shouldn't surprise. They were in office for a relatively long time. They run a big sprawling government with thousands of appointees and personnel. It is simply beyond the pale of one person to control every facet and decision their appointees and personnel make. Just as time can work for a second term president, it can also work against him, too. The longer he's in office, it's almost assured that some issue, event or catastrophe will happen that can mar a president's image, and that he may or may not have any real control over.
Obama has accomplished far too much in the face of far too much adversity. To spin his plunging popularity numbers as if he's a complete failure is to horribly mangle the comparison with the president who clearly was a failure.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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