01/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How Obama's Adroit Symbolism Yields Sky-High Approval

President-elect Barack Obama delivers his weekly video/radio address on Christmas Eve, focusing on support for the US Armed Forces and hope for struggling Americans in the economic downturn, pointing to the inspiration of Washington's crossing of the Delaware during the American Revolution.

Well, President-elect Barack Obama has more than weathered a few highly-publicized controversies. He has the highest approval rating for a president-elect in decades. He's done it with a lot of good will from the campaign, and some adroit symbolism during the transition.

A CNN poll, released on Christmas Eve as Obama vacationed in longtime honeymoon spot Hawaii, shows increased, sky-high support for Obama's presidential transition.

The widely-publicized kerfuffles around Rod Blagojevich and Rick Warren haven't hurt a bit, as I anticipated, and Obama's political honeymoon has, if anything, intensified.

Eighty-two percent of those questioned in the poll approved of the way the Obama is handling his presidential transition. That's up three points from when the question was asked at the beginning of December. Fifteen percent of those surveyed disapproved of the way Obama's handling his transition, down three points from the last poll.

The 82 percent approval is higher than the rating of then President-elect George W. Bush, who had a 65 percent transition approval rating eight years ago, and that of Bill Clinton, who was at 67 percent during the same period at the end of 1992.

Barack Obama introduced his highly-regarded scientific leadership team.

"Barack Obama is having a better honeymoon with the American public than any incoming president in the past three decades. He's putting up better numbers, usually by double digits, than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or either George Bush on every item traditionally measured in transition polls," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Obama completed the fastest Cabinet appointments in 40 years, and is now off on a working vacation in his native Hawaii. He floated through two teapot tempests. One in which the far right flipped out, so-called Blagogate, and another in which some on the left, frustrated at an avoidable defeat on same-sex marriage, forgot about the center part of center/left and got very exercised about a guy who is reciting a prayer.

Barack Obama introduced his secretaries of labor, a strong liberal from LA, and transportation, a Republican from Illinois.

The far right flipping out about Obama is nothing new. Nor, I suppose, is a lot of the media going along for the ride. The media loves controversy, deep or otherwise, as it's easier than dealing with deeper issues.

So how has Obama -- a state senator just four years ago -- pulled this off?

Barack Obama introduced top members of his energy and environmental team.

** First off, he and his operation look and sound quite competent. He and his advisors picked his Cabinet in an expeditious manner. Most view the appointees as capable and impressive. If one or two were disturbingly close to the Wall Street scene as it was about to melt down and failed to sound the alarm about the extreme dangers of rocket-science high finance, well, perhaps they know best how to fix the folly. Perhaps.

** Obama has maintained a regular, reassuring presence. In a tumultuous time, even though he's not president yet, Obama has made many public appearances, coming off as composed and thoughtful, promising action on the way.

** He also comes across as more accessible than he is. He's had a lot of press conferences, but doesn't take many questions. But the ones he does take he answers, or seems to. In any event, voters have a mixed view of the media, whose priorities are frequently different than theirs.

** Obama chose a good vacation spot. Despite efforts by some in the media and the Republican opposition to make an issue of Obama vacationing in Hawaii earlier in the year after locking up the Democratic presidential nomination, it's a popular choice. Hawaii is a highly favored tourist destination, for obvious reasons. And Obama is actually from Hawaii. When he goes there, he's going home. He's not only going to a place which many Americans have visited -- the setting for beloved old TV shows like Magnum, PI and Hawaii Five-O -- he's going to the place where he grew up.

** Which brings up another plus for Obama in his transition, his Hawaiian-ness. Obama is a bundle of firsts wrapped in one package. One that's little remarked upon is that he's the first president born and raised in Hawaii.

Obama, his wife Michelle, and their daughters Malia and Sasha, are celebrating the holidays in Kailua, where they're staying in a rented beachfront home. Kailua is a Windward Oahu town, a half-hour drive from the relative bustle of Honolulu. I've driven there, down the Pali Highway, then through a tunnel and out again to confront a beautiful panoramic view dominated by ocean and some of the best beachfront in the world.

Every day, Obama gets his classified intelligence/national security briefing. In that setting, it's easier to approach even the most distressing news with Zen-like composure. Hawaii is an easy-going state, with many influences. While Obama needed to learn the bare-knuckles politics of Chicago in order to become president, it may be that the Hawaiian background is what will sustain him over the long haul.

** Obama's not the "Manchurian Candidate."

You remember all that mumbo-jumbo during the campaign, and even after amongst bitter-enders, about Obama not being a real American. It was a pernicious web of silliness, all the more so for its viciousness. I wrote about it here on the Huffington Post over two months ago.

Because Obama is not a white man, because he has an unusual name, because he has an unusual background, and because there is what I'll be writing about as the (Diss)Loyal Opposition, it will keep percolating throughout his presidency. But, like his trip during the campaign to the Middle East and Europe, when Obama seemed very at ease amongst American soldiers and generals and every international leader he met, his Christmas and New Year's vacation is further driving home the point that he's every bit as American as anyone else in this country.

His weekly video/radio speech released on Christmas Eve focused on support for the US Armed Forces serving abroad and their families at home, and hope for struggling Americans in the economic downturn, pointing to the inspiration of George Washington's Christmas crossing of the Delaware during the American Revolution.

And every day, Obama works out at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, at ease with the Marines he meets there. But the memorial service for his late grandmother, whose ashes he scattered in the Pacific last week, was at a Unitarian church famed for serving as a sanctuary for sailors and soldiers protesting the Vietnam War.

It's a big, diverse, sometimes disagreeable country. So far, Obama is honoring its nature to the satisfaction of its voters.