If we were living in normal times, the following scandals and failures — without going into foreign policy — would have ruined a presidency to the point of reducing it to Nixon, Bush, or Truman poll ratings.
Think of the following: the Fast and Furious scandal, the VA mess, the tapping of the communications of the Associated Press reporters, the NSA monitoring, Benghazi in all of its manifestations, the serial lies about Obamacare, the failed stimuli, the chronic zero interest/print money policies, the serial high unemployment, the borrowing of $7 trillion to no stimulatory effect, the spiraling national debt, the customary violations of the Hatch Act by Obama cabinet officials, the alter ego/fake identity of EPA head Lisa Jackson, the sudden departure of Hilda Solis after receiving union freebies, the mendacity of Kathleen Sebelius, the strange atmospherics surrounding the Petraeus resignation, the customary presidential neglect of enforcing the laws from immigration statutes to his own health care rules, the presidential divisiveness (“punish our enemies,” “you didn’t build that,” Trayvon as the son that Obama never had, etc.), and on and on.
So why is there not much public reaction or media investigatory outrage?
In one sense there is: an iconic, landmark president was ushered into office with a supermajority in the Senate and a solidly Democratic House, at a time the public felt angry over the Iraq war and the 2008 financial meltdown. Six years later, Obama’s poll ratings bottomed out at about 43%. He lost the House in 2010, and he probably will see the Senate gone in 2014. But that said, amid such failure Obama will never descend to 30% approval ratings, and that again bring to mind the question: why?
1) His record support among minorities will not change since 70-90% of various hyphenated groups see the Obama tenure as long-overdue representation of their own interests — economic, ethnic, and symbolic. It does no good to cite rising unemployment rates among African-Americans or a deterioration in household income among Latinos. The point is that Obama feels their pain, even if his policies helped cause it. In this view, expecting blacks, to take one example, to defect from Obama would be as if right-wing rural Texans would have abandoned Bush in 2006, or the Malibu set would have given up on Clinton during Monicagate. In short — unlikely.
All the above scandals and embarrassments would have ruined a Bush, given that such mishaps would have been headlined daily in the New York Times (e.g., “VA, Benghazi, AP, NSA, IRS overwhelm sinking Bush administration”) or Washington Post (“Bush Cabinet Paralyzed by Scandal”).
For the media, Obama is not Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton whom they overwhelmingly supported. He is quite different — the first gold-plated liberal president since FDR, and probably the last for a while, intent on fundamentally transforming the United States, by redistributing income and accumulated wealth, and recalibrating the American profile abroad.
The media believes that both are socially just and long overdue. Why then nitpick a president on details, when his intentions are noble? Extraordinary ends sometimes require tawdry means. Note here: when Obama leaves office, and should he be replaced by a Republican president, then we will see a press playing catch-up, intent on restoring its shattered image by exposing cabinet members who violate the Hatch Act and the insidious revolving door between Wall Street/ banking and White House billets. But for now, the media is invested in seeing Obama as a once-in-a-lifetime emissary of its own politics.
3) The well-off are indifferent to the Obama record, interested only in its symbolic resonance. Doctrinaire liberalism resonates mostly with the very wealthy. We see that by the voting patterns of our bluest counties, or the contributions of the very affluent. In contrast, Republicanism is mostly embedded within the middle class and upper middle class, while liberalism is a coalition of the affluent and the poor.
The result is that the Kerrys, Gores, and Pelosis are dittoed by millions of the affluent in Malibu, Silicon Valley, the Upper West Side, the university towns, Chicago, academia, the arts, highest finance, corporate America, foundations, the media, etc. Their income and accumulated wealth exempt them from worries about economic slowdowns, too much regulation, higher taxes, or the price of gas, electricity, or food. That under Obama gasoline has gone from $1.80 a gallon to $4.10 is as irrelevant as it is relevant that he has so far not built the Keystone Pipeline. That the price of meat has skyrocketed or that power bills are way up means little if global warming is at last addressed by more government.
For the liberal grandee, there is a margin of safety to ensure that the California legislature takes up questions like prohibiting the sale of Confederate insignia or ensuring restrooms for the transgendered or shutting down irrigated acreage to please the delta smelt. In their view, Obama represents their utopian dreams where an anointed technocracy, exempt from the messy ramifications of its own ideology, directs from on high a socially just society — diverse, green, non-judgmental, neutral abroad, tribal at home — in which an equality of result is ensured, albeit with proper exemptions for the better educated and more sophisticated, whose perks are necessary to give them proper downtime for their exhausting work on our behalf.
But one objects that these one-percenters — the Steyer brothers, the Sean Penns, the George Soroses, the Paul Krugmans, the Al Gores, etc. — are very few. Yes, but these few million are enormously influential, given that their money and ideologies are manifested not just in nice homes, vacations, and perks, but in public venues, movies, universities, newspaper editorials, NPR, PBS, the major networks, foundations, PACs, political donations, etc.
I leave you with one final paradox. Is one reason that Obama resonates so well with the very wealthy his assurance to them that the muscular successful classes will not be following them into the elite?
Whom does the liberal elite detest? Not the very poor. Not the middle class. Not the conservative wealthy of like class. Mostly it is the Sarah-Palin-type grasping want-to-be’s (thus the vicious David Letterman jokes or Katie Couric animus or Bill Maher venom).
Those of the entrepreneurial class who own small businesses (‘you didn’t build that’), who send their kids to San Diego State rather than Stanford, who waste their ill-gotten gains on jet skis rather than skis and on Winnebagos rather than mountain climbing equipment, who employ 10 rather than 10,000, and who vacation at Pismo Beach rather than Carmel. The cool of Obama says to the very wealthy, “I’m one of you. See you again next summer on the Vineyard.”
Obama signals to the elite that he too is bothered by those non-arugula-eating greedy losers who are xenophobic and angry that the world left them behind, who are without tastes and culture, who are materialistic to the core, and who are greedy in their emphases on the individual — the tea-baggers, the clingers, the Cliven Bundy Neanderthals, the Palins in their Alaska haunts, and the Duck Dynasty freaks. These are not the sort of successful people that we want to the world to associate with America, not when we have suitably green, suitably diverse zillionaires who know where to eat in Paris.
Finally, Obama has “cool.” Or what his wife calls “swag.” The very wealthy are with him also because he instructs them how to indulge, to ignore the problems of others, to be narcissistic and self-absorbed with a veneer of hipster cool. Golf, shoot hoops, wear shades, hang with Jay-Z and Beyonce, talk about your rap menu on your iPhone, fluctuate your cadences, do you Final Four predictions — all that means you can be cool and very rich and very self-absorbed while fooling hoi polloi and feeling great about your privilege at the same time. If you are a jean- and T-shirt wearing Silicon magnifico, Obama is your guy. The palatial estate, the imported cars, the indulgent hobbies — they are not really one-percenter excesses (try water skiing for that), but the swag that assures others that outsourcing, offshoring, tax-avoiding, lobbying, and insider cronyism are just part of the hip deal.
Before we reach November of 2016, we will see unimaginable things under this administration, but one of them will not be a defection of his constituencies.