Friday, September 16, 2011

Popularity vs. Political Will

Which one is more important, when it comes to our political leaders? Do we want someone that can maintain a level of popularity, or do we want someone that will do what they believe needs doing, popularity be damned?

I'm guessing that most people would say they prefer the latter. Of course, I'm sure that's predicated on the very common conceit that the "what needs doing" of the honest politician can't help but be identical with their own "what needs doing." Because in reality, I think people like having popular leaders, even as they yearn for political scandal.

Enter President Obama. When he took office, he was riding a true wave of popularity, he was for all intents and purposes a political savior, sent to deliver the nation from the horrors of the George W. Bush Presidency. But that is no longer the case, and really hasn't been the case for quite some time. Consider this piece by Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard. Cost charts the President's approval and disapproval ratings and compares Obama's approval numbers to the last eight Presidents (excluding those that assumed office without election, LBJ and Ford). Cost concludes (rightly):
Clearly, Obama is in the bottom half of presidents ranked by early-term popularity. He’s tied with Ronald Reagan, and only Bill Clinton outstrips him in terms of unpopularity by quarter.
Of course, Reagan and Clinton bounced back hard to win second terms. So maybe all hope is not yet lost for Obama. But as Cost points out, Obama is far more divisive than either of these two. But the gist of Cost's argument is that Obama acts like he is still very popular, that he seems to truly believe most of the country is on his side. And this might turn out to be a fatal conceit for the President.

But even worse--in my opinion--is that Obama simultaneously lacks the political will to really do anything, other than attempt to out fox his opponents. Let's face it, the President can't get a handle on the economy. He doesn't  really know what to do and the people he's relied on to show him keep looking ridiculously incompetent. Even James Carville knows this, as his advice to the President is to:
Fire somebody. No -- fire a lot of people. This may be news to you but this is not going well. For precedent, see Russian Army 64th division at Stalingrad. There were enough deaths at Stalingrad to make the entire tea party collectively orgasm. 
Furthermore, it's not going to work with the same team, the same strategy and the same excuses. I know economic analysts are smart -- some work 17-hour days. It's time to show them the exit. Wake up -- show us you are doing something.
Aside from his--what will turn out to be ill-fated--healthcare bill, Obama lacks true direction. He's got plenty of ideology and is quick to pull out the standard tricks and pseudo-fixes in that regard, but that's not the same thing as having a goal and actually knowing how to get there.

And maybe--just maybe--this all stems from his lack of experience, from his lack of executive experience. If Obama was sitting on a Senate committee right now, he'd probably be far more popular...

Cheers, all.

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