He’s nice. Affable, even. He’s got a good build and a killer smile. He’s perfect on the small screen. He’s big in Germany.
He’s … David Hasselhoff?
No — Barack Obama.
Why did we elect this guy, anyway? As it turns out, hardly half of Americans are optimistic about the president’s signature piece of legislation, the Porkulus. Other polls show that most Americans don’t feel the economy is set to return to robust growth any time soon. And it must be said that even without a teleprompter, Hasselhoff is capable of turning in a convincing, heart-wrenching performance.
A recent Pew Research poll showed that 58 percent of Americans were against giving more tax dollars to GM and Chrysler — just 36 percent were in favor. Similar percentages are against the new Cash for Clunkers law, perhaps because it uses a trade-in formula even more complex than the math used by car dealers to conceal what your actual monthly payment will turn out to be.
Where the president has succeeded — largely, in getting his massive stimulus bill through congress — it hasn’t exactly inspired the American people. Three quarters of us are sure that “the government is likely to waste” the money. Slimmer majorities believe that the stimulus hasn’t worked, or won’t work. Opposition to the new cap ‘n’ trade ‘n’ tax’the’tar’out’of’everybody bill is growing.
And while the number of Americans who believe that the country is on the right track has increased since President Bush left office, that percentage peaked in May (at between 40 to 50 percent, depending on the pollster) and has since been slipping or holding steady at best.
Then there’s health care. We have a popular president who wants to reform it. His party enjoys overwhelming majorities in both houses of congress. And the American people understand that something about our health care system is very, very sick. Yet Senator Diane Feinstein (D, Military-Industrial Complex) says “I don’t know that he has the votes right now” to get reform passed — even though Obama is letting Congress (specifically, Montana Democrat Max Baucus) write most any bill it wants.
It’s not as though the president needs to deal with a popular, well-disciplined (or even extant) opposition party. MSNBC reports that “opinions about the Republican Party are at an all-time low.” And that was before South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted to cavorting across the Argentine plain with a woman with eyes of night and lips as bright as flame.
And yet, in poll after poll, around 60 percent of Americans approve or strongly approve of how the president is doing his job. Three quarters of us say we like Obama, including one quarter who disapprove of his policies. So when this personally popular president gets what he wants, why don’t the American people like it so much?
Because what he wants isn’t, I think, what we elected him to do. Little else can explain the disconnect between how the president polls personally, and how he polls on real issues.
We elected Obama because he seems nice, because he’s metro, because he’s got that killer smile, and because he’s so well-liked Over There. Someone, like Hasselhoff, who can run along the beach with other beautiful people and make us feel all tingly inside. What we didn’t elect him to do — and this is the real genius of the American electorate — was to live up to his campaign promises. We understand politicians break their campaign promises; maybe this time we were actively hoping one would.
We wanted somebody to make us seem nicer abroad (although taking it to the point of naivete might be a little much) and to make us feel good about ourselves at home. Mission accomplished and all that. The problem is, between the Republicans’ implosion and Obama’s personal popularity, he’s free to do exactly what he promised us he’d do: spend, spend, spend. And tax, tax, tax. And regulate, regulate, regulate. His only real obstacles are a few conservative Democrats in Congress and those pesky poll numbers.
When Americans tell pollsters they’re not happy with the direction the country is heading, a liberal will tell you it’s because the government isn’t giving them what they want or need. But it could also very well be because the government isn’t helping them to protect what they have, or keeping out of their way as they pursue their goals. President Bush certainly didn’t do those things, and so far neither is President Obama. One saw faith in his administration and his party come crashing down to earth — and then some. The other is still running along the beach with Pamela Anderson.
It hardly seems fair. But in politics, as in Hollywood, little ever is.