Several readers sound off on my big Obama post from yesterday:
Right the fuck on, Andrew. When I was canvassing for the president in my swing area of California’s Inland Empire in 2012, an older white blond retired policewoman was our precinct captain. I’ll never forget her speech at the end of our last convening, “and aside from politics, this president just strikes me as a decent man who is trying and I think he deserves our help.”
I hear few people talk about what Barack Obama deserves, but I’m glad that every once in a while someone does. I have owned a home for a couple years now (thanks Obama economy!) and I have roommates. Just balancing the interests of four people under one roof is EXHAUSTING. The fact that this president has passed laws that have helped my working-class family while dealing with pressures from 350 million people is a staggering thought that too many people don’t have. I appreciate you talking about what President Obama deserves. There are all too many out there, who don’t lead shit, who would blisteringly criticize any train of thought that humanizes the president or paints him in a sympathetic light. Those cats never got my sister health insurance though.
Two things. Obama didn’t really “go wrong” or suddenly become unpopular. There is a great piece from Media Matters that points out that Obama’s approval ratings have held steady for years. Not only didn’t his approval numbers drop this month or this year, or the last few years, but at times have gone up slightly. No matter. The press for some reason latched on to this narrative, and so it is.
So, what is really happening? The national divide is vivid. Where are Obama/Dems losing? Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, etc. You have written about this before – about our “Cold Civil War” and the Southernization of Republican politics. But this obvious fact seems impolite to mention in most venues. America is hip-deep in its long regional/ideological divide, and increasingly so. Attempting to analyze today’s likely results rationally – was it Ebola or the botched roll out of Obamacare? – misses the point entirely. Alabama wasn’t going to vote differently today if Obamacare had rolled out smoothly. Texas, Mississippi or South Dakota wouldn’t vote differently if the stock market under Obama had increased from 7,949.09 to 17,366.24, a growth of 218% in less than six years (it has), or unemployment fell below 6% (it has), or average gas prices were $3/gallon (it is), or GDP was growing at 3.5% (it is).
In the meaningful sense, this isn’t a divided country “across the dinner table.” This is a regional division, and it is growing.
I work on Wall Street and am one of those dreaded one-percenters. I have always supported Obama and I still do. But I am utterly confounded by the lack of support for an administration that has presided over an insanely successful economic recovery. In 2008-9, we were on the verge of a true disaster, which could easily have resulted in Depression-era unemployment and devastation, and would have if the Republicans in Congress had their way. This latter statement is not conjecture: does anyone else recall that the markets dropped over 7% when the House Republicans blocked the bailout? And austerity programs have been proven to be abject failures. The recovery here has many issues, the most worrying is the wealth gap. But I am not aware of any time in history when consumer sentiment surveys are at seven-year highs, and the president’s popularity is at close to a six-year low. Simply put: what the fuck is going on?
But several readers are critical of the president:
You are right to pinpoint the events of the fall of 2013 as the key turning point. You mention healthcare.gov and Syria as the two key developments at that time – yet each of those failures resonated with those who had already decided that they disapproved of the president, the Tea Party and the necons, respectively. The third major development of the fall of 2013, which you do not mention explicitly, was the Edward Snowden story. I think you underestimate its impact by dismissively lumping it with other complaints about the “disillusionment of some on the left.” Obama’s defense of the NSA’s illegality was of a different order than his support for the health insurance industry or his rejection of populism on Wall Street. The Snowden revelations, in my opinion, led, for the first time, to the disillusion of key parts of his coalition: it is that defection, not the energized opposition of those who were already inclined to oppose him anyway, that pushed his approval ratings irreversibly under water.
Another is succinct:
During a campaign, Obama is a great communicator. In office, he’s a rather poor one. Since he took office, he’s ceded the messaging initiative to the GOP, has failed to respond effectively, and it has hurt him, badly.
Another elaborates along those lines:
Where did Obama go wrong? One word: messaging. You’ve hit on this before, and at several points during his administration you’ve laid out the case for his presidency better than he or his team ever has.
Letterman touched on this point by mentioning these three factors: cost of gas, unemployment, stock market. When was the last time you went into Election Day with all three of those trending towards the good and the incumbent administration getting beat up? For whatever reason, possibly it just isn’t native to his skill set, Obama has never done a good job of selling his achievements or the general trajectory of “where we were vs. where we are” that defines his presidency. I’d say it was because he no more elections to run, but he didn’t sell this well during his first term either.
And so in the absence of a sales pitch in defense of himself, the Fox megaphone and its subsidiaries resonate even louder, and the reasonably smaller (not to discount any one) missteps or problems during his presidency seem bigger than they would otherwise be. His response to Syria was off somewhat? How much weight are we supposed to give that? Add in a few new and largely unsolvable hysteria issues (Ebola, ISIS) in the run-up to the election, and here we are.
For the record, you keep asking what this election is supposed to mean. From a mandate standpoint, there isn’t one. But when the GOP owns both houses, it means an invocation of the dare we’ve secretly been muttering to ourselves for some time now: Fine, You Do Something. With full control of Congress, and under the constraints of the veto pen, show us just what it is you claimed you would have done the last six years, if only you’d had the means.
One more reader:
As a classic liberal in FLA’s bloody-red spleen (Lake County), I can honestly say that I am not the least bit surprised how things went down yesterday. Of course I am disappointed that Proposition 2 did not pass and I’m pretty bummed that Rick Scott still has a job, but I’m not shocked at all. I watched the variety of ads that all of this new dark money bought and I sized up the people next to me at the voting booth. I knew that I was voting to stop the bleeding and I waited until midnight before I checked the results.
Reading Democrats’ reactions this morning is a different story. Blaming the President exclusively for the party’s weakness has me utterly bewildered. How limp-dicked has my party become? Obama’s administration has really let me down in a lot of ways (protecting the FBI, keeping Guantanamo open, drone assassinations, sucking up to Wall Street), but to say that the White House lost the mid-terms for Democrats is proof that my party has also lost its mind. Everyone knows the GOP’s playbook and now we also know how effective it can be when the populist side of the Left is ignored for political strategy as well as the need for big money in elections.
We are in for a bumpy ride but at least now Republicans will have to own their legislation and the Democrats can figure out who the fuck they are.
(Map of the 2014 Senate results from Politico. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images))