No, I do not wake up in the morning with that question foremost on my mind. But rarely does a day pass without my putting the question to myself: Why does President Barak Hussein Obama still command the support of half the electorate?
Of course, one immediate response could be that the polls – given that they are largely in the hands of the Liberal Establishment who form the base of his support – may just not be accurate. But they are so consistent, sometimes reflecting a little downward movement in moments of particular crisis, that one pretty much has to accept that is the judgment to half the population which thinks at all politically, that is, that he is doing an adequate job after six years in training.
One might well ask in riposte: Why is it important given that the President is now a lame duck with only two years to go in office and facing Republican majorities in both houses of the Congress? Theoretically, his ability to govern is going to be limited.
The answer is, of course, were his popular following not so large, one might hope that he would be forced into taking a more conciliatory approach to opposition leaders – including some in his own party. That, rather than his confrontational style in full display in the state of the union message – how many times does he have to remind us he has veto power? – is further evidence that legislative progress will be negligible in finding solutions to the nation’s woes [in the narrow sense that is at all possible].
The state of the union message, while delivered with his usual rhetorical brilliance, was a tissue of half truths at best. [On domestic issues and the headlines on foreign crises obfuscation is the least one can use in describing them.] And one has to assume that many if not most of his audience outside the Congress, however apolitical, knows that from personal experience.
For example, his claim of lower unemployment is a statistical anomaly since in fact so many disappointed job seekers have withdrawn from the labor market, that participation has been trending down and is now at only 62.7%. I doubt that most people have to be told of that state of affair, especially the working poor, hit hard not only by the cyclical unemployment – the slowest recovery since World War II – but also by growing structural unemployment brought on the digital revolution.
The President’s claim that the war on terror and the advance of Islamic terrorism – both of which he refuses to name — has been blunted is equally and obviously absurd. He was lucky in that the victory he touted in Yemen only in September was overtured hours after his speech by pro-Iranian forces.
Now, apparently, we have to hope that a tussle between them and their ostensible Sunni opponents, al Qaida of the Arabian Peninsular – also Yemen based – will fight it out in near chaos. [Don’t bet on it! Sunni Hamas, offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, has nevertheless taken Iranian weapons on the Israeli and Egyptian doorstep.]
It’s no secret to military observers that whether or not the airwar against ISIL [the Islamic State]which has taken over huge tracts of Syria [their headquarters where we do not bomb] and Iraq has been feeble compared to any such campaign historically. [Perhaps the Administration’s decision to now refer to the Islamic Sate as Daesh, its Arabic acronym will help?]
In any case, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a member of NATO, is being forced to admit that reinforcements – including candidates for training for a return to their native countries as “lone wolf” terrorists – are passing through its border with Syria along with logistics for, uh, Daesh. It was only months ago that Obama was in constant communication with Erdoğan as his announced favorite among all foreign leaders.
Almost as the President spoke, Russia’s Vladimir Putin was flaunting additional aid to the rebels trying to tear off another chunk of Ukraine. Russian propaganda aimed at the Russian ethnic populations of the Baltic states hints at a showdown there. As members of NATO, they already face Moscow’s provocations. It could put NATO’s “one for one and all for one” essence on the table as it has not been since.our allies joined us [f hardly enthusiastically] in Afghanistan after 0/11 to root out al Qaida.
Again, the average American voter – however sophisticated – can not be expected to know these details, or indeed, given the current economic situation be intent on studying them. Besides, he reads or listens to a kept media which, by and large, ignores them or muddies the waters as well. [Although one has to note that even Tom Friedman, one of the Administration’s favorites as spokesmen for the always apologetic New York Times got off the reservation, at least temporarily, to criticize the Administration’s continued refusal to associate “Islam” with the terrorists.]
But that would be to deny the common sense of the American audience. The financial records being broken by the Hollywood film, “American Sniper”, despite vicious attacks on it by the usual leftwing and anti-military suspects in Hollywood itself and beyond, suggests that public still has its bearings. A film [I haven’t seen it] which apparently illustrates the horrors of war as much as the bravery and dedication of one soldier as an example of the incredibly overtaxed and professional American military is getting a vote of confidence.
So back to our question? Where does the President’s support come from?
I am afraid I have a hypothesis which suggests some very ugly things about the current American scene, not the least of our self-appointed political, academic and artistic elite.
My old friend, Mike Macht [where are you now, Mike?] had only a half joking hypothesis about the growing chaos and discrepancies of the post-World War II world, especially after the halcyon 1950s. Mike argued that since the Victorian Era, there had been a worldwide deterioration of style. And that explained more than many more dialectical analysis what was going wrong in the world. Hitler, was, indeed, among so many other things, uncouth.
The joke has come back to me as I have watched the chief executive of the United States chewing gum at a meeting of Asian leaders. Or there was – posed? – the photograph of the leg and foot on the hallowed Oval Office desk. Or there was the video of a giggling selfie production at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, a worldwide honored figure.
An absence of style?
Yes, for us old fuddy-duddies, perhaps. But much of this, apparently, is considered not only appropriate but welcomed to a generation of younger Americans who look like they are at the beach when shopping at Walmart’s. Carefully contrived crude “throw away” lines in a prepared speech which ignore the November elections seem to fold into the pattern. And so does conversation – in the rarer and rarer instances when it replaces “texting” – in which “like” or “you know” in every other sentence has replaced articulation of arguments.
The New Oxford Dictionary tells me that the adjective that describes such people and such action is now “cool”. An example? According to the OED: “if people want to freak out at our clubs, that’s cool”.
I suspect that the same people who voted for the first Afro-American president twice, in no small part to assuage their hidden racism or their guilt for living in all-white upper class suburban neighborhoods, are attracted by a president who is, whatever else, “cool”.