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Page Two: Eyes Wide Open

Obama supporters aren't as disillusioned as polls and pundits would have you believe

By Louis Black, Fri., Jan. 21, 2011

It has been happening with some regularity now. In the past year or so, I've encountered it all over Austin but also on both coasts. Most often it happens when I'm visiting friends, sometimes with family, and even a few times with people with whom I'm really not that close. We'll be talking politics. There will be a pause in the conversation, and right after that they will say, almost always in two sentences: "I like President Obama." And then, "I actually think he is doing a very good job." At that point, I usually offer some variant on "a very good job – actually an unusually good job." After that, the conversation takes off.

The tone in which these statements are made is interesting. The speakers are never embarrassed and usually seem quite sure of themselves. Their opinions are offered, however, as though they were unpopular – ones with which they don't expect you to agree – but neither tentatively nor apologetically.

Many who dislike the president delight in offering poll numbers to show how dissatisfied the electorate is with his performance. They nearly swoon when reporting on how many of these are former supporters who voted for him. Although many tend to endorse or damn local, regional, and national opinion/political polling (usually based on whether or not they agree with the content), poll results seem accurate, especially when indicating the percentages of support for or hostility toward candidates and issues. Obviously, the way poll questions are phrased and grouped, as well as who is asked, affects the results.

There are those who try to legislate by poll – but, of course, only when the numbers go their way. Right-wing talking heads constantly bring up polls that show the public differs with Obama's policy. They accuse him of near-treason for not doing what the people want. They make the preposterous argument that the job of the president is to indulge the whims of the people.

As is all too often, this belief is the result of lazy, divisive demagoguery rather than having anything to do with the Constitution. Actually, one of the main ambitions of the constitutional government was to isolate elected legislators from the mood of the public. The idea was that elected officials would, in accordance with their principles, do what they thought was best for the country.

Polls offer scientific and empirical data rather than merely anecdotal information. In that light, one would believe that President Obama has not only lost much of his support but that many feel that he has been a disappointing president. This has been further and freely interpreted by pundits to mean the country has turned on him and his party.

Certainly some of that is right, but maybe not as much of it as we are being sold. There are many of those wise, nodding heads on TV that would have us believe that all the diverse political communities in this country are lined up against the president.

The consistent certainty with which administration critics describe the feelings of Obama supporters has almost bizarrely come to be the accepted take – that the voters who swept him into office were expecting a completely unique and enlightened term, that he would walk on water like a biblical saint rather than a human president. The critics treat his supporters like recovering addicts, since they can't imagine anyone approves of this presidency, saying: "We told you so! Why didn't you listen?" Much of the time, this lament is delivered with sneering contempt and a certain satisfaction that these Obama supporters have now gotten their comeuppance for their ill-informed and utopian expectations.

This is all based on the assumption that there is an obvious and generally shared belief that Obama has turned out to be a bad president, heading up a confused and ineffectual administration.

There is little obvious public support for the administration, and it is being attacked for its many failures from a wide range of ideological positions.

• Our progressive and leftist brothers and sisters turned on Obama even before he was elected. They feel a certain satisfaction that the president has proven to be just as much another run-of-the-mill centrist as they predicted he would be well before the election.

What concerns me here is that there are principles and there are policies; there are ideologies, and then there are processes. There is a desire from both the left and the right to see the government diverted from business as usual because that kind of government has become so corrupted and morally bankrupt. Real change, therefore, would mean a major disruption in the operations and goals of the government. Although along very different lines, it would have to be significantly re-created, using radically different priorities in pursuit of dramatically reimagined goals.

The most radical administration of my lifetime was George W. Bush's. Early on, there was an open and largely successful assault on the two-party system, accompanied by an attempt to thwart the balance of power in favor of an imperial presidency. There was, of course, a major shift in the agenda toward serving extremely conservative and even reactionary politics. It was not simply a move to the right, however, but an attempt to restructure the government in service of a dominant party system.

It seems that the achievement of substantial and profound liberal changes in politics and governance by a successful candidate from the left would more than likely be accompanied by a similar constitutional assault.

• Traditional mainstream voters expected a bright new day to dawn, the recession to end, and the economy to revive in a context of racial harmony and common decency. They wanted the government to shrink, legislative inaction to end, and a return to traditional bipartisanship. Although the elected opposition absolutely refused to cooperate, abandoning even their own initiatives rather than pass legislation for which Obama might get credit, they somehow escaped most blame for their continued extreme political polarization.

• Obama supporters as imagined and defined by non-Obama supporters: Essentially, though metaphorically, it was claimed that the expectation was that Obama would walk on water, which he failed to do. Then, in service of the most ambitious agenda, the new administration would pursue magnificently irrational and realistically unachievable goals. These would include making everything better. Crucial to this vision was the expectation that Democratic legislators could be made to act like their Republican counterparts, working in lockstep, unanimous compliance in obedience to both party leaders and the president.

• Members of the far right, meanwhile, insist that not only is Obama a Marxist, Muslim communist but one serving an unprecedented radical agenda. That agenda, moreover, is designed not only to forever change but to actually destroy this country. They are well aware that politicians with ideologies and priorities different from their own are corrupt, ill-intentioned, demonic emissaries.

Denying history and ignoring reality are both crucial to this view of the devil's administration. The argument goes something like this:

Many would claim that over the decades this country has developed regulations designed to protect the public while also creating a substantial social safety net in order to serve the common good. The effort was protracted, with different parties pushing initiatives at different points. Social Security and Medicare were essentially necessary government solutions for otherwise intolerable and unsolvable social problems. Although ours is a capitalist economy, it has been best served by a regulated rather than a free market.

Well that is all nonsense. The United States has always had a wide-open, laissez-faire economy, in which anything goes. Remarkably, the beloved and necessary free market system has always been able to address and solve all social and economic problems. Essentially, it is the equivalent of a medicine-show elixir – one formula that cures all ills. In fact, the past and present are whatever we want them to be, while pagan, ideologically stunted Visigoths and Huns ransack our present.

Within this latter grouping are a number of subgroups, including:

Conspiracy theorists: Obama is just a pawn in the New World Order's game. He is a willing, knowing, corrupt pawn, but still he is a pawn.

Racists: It would seem that racism is not just rampant but way out in the open, but simply saying "I'm not a racist" makes one not a racist. By adding "it's his ideas and policies that are the problem," one ups his or her status to being on the mountain with Martin Luther King Jr.

A pail of cold water splashed into one's face right here at the end:

A wide range of people supported Obama for president for any number of reasons, probably none of which were unanimously shared.

Likely there were some who embraced the candy-bedecked, gingerbread-house (with two chickens in every pot) fantasies, as is claimed by those hostile to Obama. But these were at best a tiny minority.

After eight years of the failed Bush administration, one would have had to be crazy to think a simple change in the party in power would lead us into Oz – that government performed badly in almost every area of its function. Tragically, this was not just because ideology paved over common sense or that extreme arrogance resulted in consistent ineptitude, but often because of deliberate, destructive decisions.

We knew for whom we were voting, and we knew the kind of president we'd be getting.

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