Consider this paradox: Americans overwhelmingly support President Obama's actions against the Islamic State so far—airstrikes and humanitarian assistance without ground troops—and yet they disapprove of Obama's handling of the ISIS crisis. Why the split mind?Of course we can trust our intrepid media to spend a lot of ink explaining to us why that is. This is usually where we see the emphasis on President Obama's lack of PR skills. The assumption being that he's not good at selling policies the American people already agree with (huh?). And of course, it provides people like Ron Fournier with the opportunity to say that its all about the President's lack of leadership.
But, like any political question or analysis of social behavior, it is absurd to think that the answer to this dilemma is simple. Fournier's suggestion that the President is being led rather than leading contains a grain of truth if you think about Obama's rejection of dominance as his leadership style and embrace of partnership.
There's also some truth in Jeffrey Goldberg's statement about why President Obama doesn't get the credit he deserves for taking down terrorists.
He gets no acclaim as a terrorist hunter for two reasons. First, Republicans will not credit him with any achievements in this endeavor because they won’t credit him with any achievement ever, for anything...Second, the left-leaning Democratic Party base is hesitant to tout his record in the terrorist-killing department because it is uncomfortable with the idea of their president as a drone-deploying killer. No love from the right or left means that attacks such as the one that eliminated the head of Somalia’s terrifying al-Shabab militant group received relatively little notice.And then, of course, there is the way our media covers presidents in the post-Watergate era. Their approach reminds me of something Lily Tomlin says in the play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe:
No matter how cynical I get, I'm afraid its never enough to keep up.Journalists these days earn their chops by demonstrating how high up the chain of cynicism they can go. That makes it hard for any president to be credited with actual policies/achievements.
I'm sure you could point to many other things that contribute to this dilemma. But how can we legitimately talk about this with respect to our first black president and not even mention racism? The fact that so many pundits who've written about it haven't even introduced it as a factor speaks to the level of white privilege contained in the analysis.
From day one there have been Americans all over this country who have questioned the validity of Obama's presidency. That takes the form of everything from questions about his place of birth to those who are simply more amenable to suggestions that he just isn't up to the job - wink, wink...nod, nod. From there, motivated reasoning takes over to confirm the lies embedded in white supremacy. That is the fertile ground in which obstructionist Republicans plant stories about how the President is weak or incompetent or tyrannical or simply "not American." Racism also finds fertile ground when those on the left suggest that President Obama is naive, or lucky, or weak.
And so, any explanation for why this President's favorability is lower than support for his policies that does not include racism as a factor is simply incomplete. It might not be the only factor, but to not mention it at all is absurd.