D. Dowd Muska


What Barry and Dutch Have in Common

February 14, 2013

You can barbecue my nose,

Make a giblet of my toes,

Make me freeze, make me fry,

Make me sigh, make me cry,

Still I’ll yell to the sky

Though I can’t tell you why,

That I ... like ... him!

- Sancho Panza, Man of La Mancha

The conservative entertainment complex is unable to understand Barack Obama’s popularity.

Why, right-wingers ask -- why, why, why -- isn’t the president hated?

Their query received a crateful of fresh ammunition from a recent poll. Gallup asked 1,015 adults their opinion of Obama’s handling of the military, foreign affairs, immigration, energy, guns, taxes, the economy, “the situation … between the Israelis and Palestinians,” and D.C.’s budget deficit.

The president’s approval ratings were shockingly abysmal on debt (31 percent), the mess in the Holy Land (36 percent), and the economy (39 percent). More survey respondents gave him thumbs-down than thumbs-up on taxes, guns, energy, immigration, and foreign policy, too.

Only on “defense” was the chief executive not underwater. Fifty-three percent approved, 44 percent disapproved. (Pitching Osama bin Laden’s bullet-riddled corpse into the Arabian Sea is an achievement without an expiration date.)

Unemployment remains stubbornly high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is just creeping back to where it was in October 2007. Gasoline, food, taxes, and healthcare expenses are pinching families’ drooping incomes. The conflict in Afghanistan is a bloody logjam. The nation isn’t hopeful, and hasn’t been for a long time.

So how, conservative pundits and bloggers wonder, can the president’s job-approval rating possibly be north of 50 percent?

The answer is simple. Most Americans like Barack Obama. He’s cool. He plays basketball. He jokes around on late-night talk shows. He knows the lyrics to “Let’s Stay Together.” Plus, in a country where divorce and illegitimacy are rampant, he’s a family man. Got and stayed married. His two kids, born within wedlock, appear to stay out of trouble.

Ronald Reagan couldn’t have been more different than Obama, but the Gipper’s presidency experienced a similar phenomenon. A Media General-Associated Press poll examined attitudes toward the outgoing incumbent at the end of 1988. On issue after issue, the results were dismal. Fifty-one percent disapproved of Reagan’s civil-rights policies. More than 60 percent were dissatisfied with his record on housing and welfare. A majority thought the administration had poor ethics, and 80 percent grumbled about budget deficits. Sentiment was widespread that the Reagan Era had helped the affluent more than the middle class and poor.

Yet the AP reported that a “vast two-thirds endorsed the way [Reagan] has done his job overall.” The original Teflon President retained high popularity because he had skills that no Ivy League education or campaign consultant can teach: “Two-thirds ranked his leadership ability as excellent or good and three-quarters favorably rated his charisma and his ability to communicate.”

Policy wonks and professional partisans refuse to accept it, but visceral responses to elected officials have more impact than position papers and media coverage. Height, weight, hair, voice, personality, habits, spouses, children -- they shouldn’t matter. But they do. And that’s not likely to change.

As was the case with nearly every president of the last century, Barack Obama has no interest in jealously guarding Americans’ civil liberties and economic freedoms. Almost every action he takes makes the “public sector” bigger.

But by now it ought to be obvious that demonizing a president who most people find to be decent fellow -- as well as a solid husband and father -- isn’t an effective tactic in the crusade against Big Government. Mitt Romney’s campaign failed in large part because its central theme, “the incumbent is evil,” was spectacularly ineffective. Fixating on Obama as the wellspring of All That Is Wrong With The Republic won’t yield many successes during the next four years, either. It’s time for a different approach.

At the end of the 40th president’s second term, an anonymous White House aide told Newsweek that “when Ronald Reagan has to make a big decision -- and he doesn’t make small ones -- he asks himself one question and one question only. He asks himself, what would John Wayne have done?”

Liberals despised the Great Communicator’s views on taxes, deregulation, and the Cold War. But his decisiveness, simplicity, and joviality drove them to delirium. The left still refuses to forgive the public for embracing a president whom the loathsome Democratic fixer Clark Clifford dubbed an “amiable dunce.” Today, the Obama Derangement Industry is making a similar mistake.

Whether it’s pickup trucks, Pinot noirs, or presidents, de gustibus non est disputandum.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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