Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It’s a partisan issue

People inclined to be opposed to President Barack Obama plan to use their new foothold on Capitol Hill to thwart him. The real question is how Obama will respond. Photograph provided by Architect of the Capitol.

The Gallup Organization came out with a new poll confirming what I largely had suspected to be true about the “mood” of the country when it comes to President Barack Obama and his policies, his critics aren't more numerous. They're just speaking more loudly.

The pundits of a conservative bent are trying to portray recent events as a sign that the country is turning against Obama. He’s losing the people who put him in office – we’re supposedly seeing that we made a very big mistake, and that we probably wish we could have first lady Cindy McCain right about now.

I HAVE ALWAYS thought this was more about political partisanship.

The people who on the day after Election Day in 2008 were upset that Obama won remain concerned, and were likely to spend the next four years doing what they could to thwart the goals of a president whom their life experiences make them inclined to distrust.

There have been times I have said the Obama first term as president would wind up being reminiscent of “Council Wars,” the nickname given to that era of Chicago government in the mid-1980s when the City Council used its authority to thwart the will of then-Mayor Harold Washington.

That was a blatantly racial period against Washington, while those people with racial hangups against biracial Obama have been more subtle. Perhaps that is the evidence that we as a society have made some progress.

WHAT I HAVE thought these recent electoral victories that pundits say are evidence of rejecting Obama truly are about are the people who never wanted Obama merely doing a better job of organizing themselves for those Election Days.

As a result, they won. And after Massachusetts, they may well have gained enough influence that they will be able to stop an Obama administration from doing much of anything. He certainly won’t be able to do anything that would make himself look good.

We’re entering a period of nothingness in the federal government – one that will last at least through the next presidential elections of 2012.

One only has to look at the Gallup poll released Monday to see this. That poll shows 82 percent of all people surveyed who identify themselves as Democrats have a favorable view of Obama’s performance. That is down from the 88 percent favorable Democratic rating he had when he was elected, and from the peak of 90 percent back in August.

IT’S NOT EXACTLY a serious drop. The people who got caught up in Obama-mania of ’08 likely are still supportive.

But Obama, it seems, now has the largest gap between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to favorable ratings.

Only 18 percent of the people who identify with the GOP have a favorable rating of Obama. To tell you the truth, with all the nasty rhetoric I read about Obama these days, I’m surprised to learn it’s even that high.

That is a drop from 41 percent of Republicans thinking favorably of Obama when he was inaugurated a year ago, which quickly dropped to 28 percent soon after he took office but is a slight uptick from the 17 percent low Obama hit among Republicans in August of ’09.

IF ANYTHING, THIS seems to be my generation’s contribution (I’m 44) to electoral politics – this absolute belief in ideology that makes the idea of bipartisanship so unworkable.

Gallup digs into their historical records and finds that no president prior to Ronald Reagan had larger than a 40-percent gap in their approval ratings between the two political parties.

It was “the Gipper” who brought about the concept of being detested by one group while loved by the other, and that sense has only grown in recent years. Obama’s split between the parties is even greater than that experienced by George W. Bush, who in recent days has taken to co-writing commentaries with former President Bill Clinton for the New York Times about the situation in Haiti.

Once he’s no longer president, will we someday get Obama working on joint projects with Bush?

SO EXCUSE ME if I think this change in the mood of the nation toward the president really isn’t anything more than the people who always were inclined to not want Obama speaking out a little more clearly.

The people who were apathetic about putting John McCain into the White House can now just speak out against what they oppose. I’d also hope for his sake that Obama now realizes the partisan mood of the nation is something he likely isn’t going to be able to overcome.

The Obama who used to like to talk about how he had Republican friends when he served as a state senator in Springfield, Ill., is going to have to realize that not all Republicans are like his one-time poker buddy, Kirk Dillard – the gubernatorial candidate who actually gets some criticism from GOP partisans because he was willing to be friendly with Obama.

If there’s anything I think Obama is guilty of in his first year of office, it is underestimating the partisanship he would face. Some people are just always going to say “no,” and his staff has to figure out a way to work around them in order to get things accomplished for the public good. That alone makes the State of the Union on Wednesday worth listening to.

BECAUSE THERE STILL is a significant portion of the public that is counting on his vision to prevail, which is why I wonder how much of the next two years’ inactivity will be blamed on Republicans for being obstructionists?

There still are problems that need to be addressed – no matter how much the Republican rhetoric rails on, there still is that 47 million estimated people without adequate health insurance.


EDITOR’S NOTES: As of Monday, Barack Obama had a 48 percent overall approval rating, compared to (http://www.gallup.com/poll/125345/Obama-Approval-Polarized-First-Year-President.aspx) a 47 percent disapproval rating, which sounds to me like the country is split pretty evenly.

In today’s political environment, it appears that the time for bipartisan cooperation is once one leaves (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/world/americas/17prexy.html?ref=weekinreview) electoral office.

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