Obama's Unpopularity

| Thu Sep. 2, 2010 8:59 PM EDT

Michael Scherer has a piece in Time today headlined "How Barack Obama Became Mr. Unpopular." Now, as it happens, Obama isn't actually any more unpopular than most presidents after 18 months in office, and in any case he's still more popular than practically anyone or anything else in Washington DC. But fine. His popularity is down. Mostly, of course, this is because the economy sucks, but that makes for boring journalism. So we get a bunch of other explanations:

"He's trying to Europeanize us, and the Europeans are going the other way," [says Fred Ferlic], a former Democratic campaign donor who plans to vote Republican this year. "The entire American spirit is being broken."

....[In 2008] trust in the federal government was at a historic low, dropping to around 25%, where it still remains. Yet Obama has offered government as the primary solution to most of the nation's woes....Meanwhile, the resulting spike in deficits, which has been greatly magnified by tax revenue lost to the economic downturn, has spooked a broad sweep of the country.

....This past June, Peter Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group, a firm that also polls for the White House, asked voters which they preferred: "new government investments" or "cutting taxes for business" as the better approach to jump-start job creation. Even among those who voted for Obama, nearly 38% preferred tax cuts.

....For someone who so carefully read the political mood as a candidate, Obama has been unexpectedly passive at moments as President. Whereas other Democrats had hoped to spend the late summer talking about two things — jobs and the unpopularity of many Republican policies — the White House has been distracted by a string of unrelated issues, from immigration reform to a mishandled dismissal of a longtime USDA official to the furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero.

This style of reporting bugs me. This is practically a press release version of Republican talking points, but without any actual mention of the Republicans who are behind them. You'd think that broad swathes of the country just spontaneously decided that Obama was trying to Europeanize the economy, that deficits were spooky, that tax cuts are the cure for what ails you, and that the Ground Zero mosque is a massive middle finger to American dignity. I don't think there's actually much evidence that any of this stuff has hurt Obama seriously, but if that's your thesis, shouldn't you at least mention the fact that this is exactly the story conservatives have been selling since the day Obama took office? Hell, you could even do it admiringly if you were minded to. But one way or the other, you shouldn't pretend that this just happened to happen. You should attach some names to it.

Really, though, the entire piece should have been spiked and replaced with one that blamed Obama's slide entirely on the bad economy. Scherer himself provides the evidence at the end of his story:

During his early, heady days in office, the President decided to make Elkhart a personal cause. A once thriving manufacturing center of 50,000 on the Michigan-Indiana border, famous for its musical instruments and recreational vehicles, the Elkhart region saw the steepest jump in unemployment of any metropolitan area in the nation during the economic crisis.

....Since then, he has been back twice more, once to speak at Notre Dame and once to herald a new electric-vehicle plant that would be built with federal support. In the southern end of the district, thousands of jobs at parts plants were saved when Obama decided to bail out the auto companies.

....Yet all of Obama's personal and financial appeals have been swamped by the depth of the recession and have had little visible effect. Donnelly, who flies home every weekend to work in his district, felt obliged to run against Obama to save his job. And his Republican opponent, Jackie Walorski, says she is often approached by Obama voters who want to vent. "This has burned people," she says.

How much clearer can things be? Elkhart got hundreds of new jobs from the electric vehicle plant, probably hundreds more from the stimulus bill, and saved additional thousands thanks to the auto bailout. There's not a lot more that one small region could ask for. But it hasn't made any difference. Everyone there feels betrayed because unemployment remains high anyway. It's the economy, stupid.

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