Charles Krauthammer and his ilk in the 24/7 anti-Obama echo-chamber industry have been hitting on all cylinders in recent weeks. Slavishly driving GOP talking points, the dedicated and always well-paid roster of gabbering columnists, bloggers, cable talkers and talk-radio squawkers have hammered away at dramatic Obama failures such as inadequate gifts to British luminaries, scandalous overuse of teleprompters...not to mention the installation of socialism, tyranny and the destruction of America As It Was Meant To Be. (My favorite, though, is still Obama the Satanist)
You would think, given apocalyptic tone and sheer volume of WingNut Nation noise that the new president would be suffering from crashing poll numbers, depressing news cycles and numerous failures of his initiatives. But you would be wrong.
To the contrary, public opinion polls in the past week show that President Obama is more popular now than he’s ever been, with fully two-thirds of those polled approving of his performance. According to the Washington Post/ABC poll, he is trusted to handle everything from the economy (60%) to foreign affairs (62%) to even the ballooning budget deficit (52%). Republicans are laughed out of town in the CBS/NY Times poll , with a 31% approval rating and a badly mistaken 20% wanting them to have anything to do with the economy. The brilliant strategy employed by the Party of No is indeed bearing the rotting fruit it deserves.
Most impressive are the numbers regarding the right/wrong direction of the country. The detailed version of the WaPo/ABC poll provides some interesting history. Although the right/wrong numbers are still understandably in the negative at 42/57, the 42% figure is the best since April of ‘04 (which makes one wonder who thought things were going so great in the middle of the Great Bush Slog). This is a major rebound in national perception that has as much to do with the fact that Obama has shown real leadership in the midst of economic disaster and on the international stage as it does with the fact that a certain incompetent pipsqueak is no longer the president and the nation is breathing a collective sigh of relief that we somehow made it though in one damaged piece.
Facts and poll numbers are stubborn things, but the wing-nut message-developers have found a way to spin even contrary poll numbers into more bullshit. Every national and local wing-nut with a microphone or a keyboard has been trumpeting a Pew Research Center poll, which found a "partisan gap" between the Democrats who approve of Obama (88%) and Republicans who do (27%). Pew headlines this meaningless "gap" of 61 points between the two figures as more than the past six presidents at a similar point in their first terms, concluding that Obama has achieved "the most polarized early job approval ratings" of any of them.
The last two presidents are the second and third "most polarized", with post-election-theft/pre-9/11Junior Bush coming in at a 51 point gap, only because all-too-forgiving Democrats gave him 36% approval: and Bill Clinton with a 45 point gap, only because only 71% of all-too-critical-of-our-own Dems approved – Republicans were just as opposed to him as they are to Obama.
Obama’s gap is a result of a combination of 1) justifiable post-Bush, pro-Obama euphoria from Democrats; and 2) the continued diminution of the GOP into an extremist south/prairie regional party of future-denying white males. The percentage of voters identifying themselves as Republicans are an increasingly smaller group – certainly smaller than when 84% of them thought Nixon was so wonderful in 1969; or the 56% who thought the post-Watergate Jimmy Carter wasn't so bad in 1977.
The fact that Republican dead-enders are not exactly on-board with Obama or anyone else with a D in front of their name is not a surprise – these people are not exactly open-minded. The poll numbers don't indicate more polarization as much as they do stronger party affiliation and discipline. Democrats have a leader they can be proud of; the Republicans continue to behave like lemmings, following their "leaders", such as they are, over a cliff.
The fact that, despite all this noise, 59% of independents are still hanging with Obama, is the more relevant finding in the Pew poll -- if they were split 50/50, that would be quite another thing. Independents and Democrats seem to be largely on the same page. The fact that Republicans are in the corner, screeching about socialism, doesn't mean we as a people are polarized -- it just means they are annoying everyone else.
Republicans and right-wingers have made a gamble – to Just Say No to all things Obama and hope they can bleed him by a thousand trivial cuts like they tried (and, except in 1994, failed) to do with Clinton. The wager will come due soon enough in 2010, when, because of the steady progress of the Obama agenda, the Democrats claim even more seats in the Senate and dozens more in the House. Democrats will be rewarded for trying to make the nation a better place. Republicans will be justifiably punished for trying to stand in the way.