Since opinion polling on public approval of presidents began in the late 1940s, there’s only been one president who never fell below the 50 percent public approval mark: Dwight Eisenhower. Remember that this is the president that “all thinking people” (as Adlai Stevenson arrogated to himself the right to represent) regarded as a do-nothing dummy. “Heard about the Eisenhower doll?”, went a joke at the time; “You wind it up and it stands there for eight years.” Rim-shot please. It took an honest liberal, Murray Kempton, to begin to perceive (after the fact) what “all thinking people” missed: “He was the great tortoise upon whose back the world sat for eight years. We laughed at him; we talked wistfully about moving; and all the while we never knew the cunning beneath the shell.”
Of course, Eisenhower understood several things that Obama will never understand. First, it wasn’t all about him. To the contrary, he consistently resisted the pleas of his political advisers to make more televised speeches about issues. To one such plea, Ike responded:
“I keep telling you fellows I don’t like to do this sort of thing. I can think of nothing more boring, for the American public, than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens. . . I don’t think the people want to be listening to a Roosevelt, sounding as if he were one of the Apostles, or the partisan yipping of a Truman.”
Ike also knew that he was the first and only president since George Washington who would be remembered more for what he did before he became president (i.e., plan D-Day, win the war in Europe, etc.).
It is possible that Obama will ironically become better known for what he did before he became president. Nothing, you might say, and you’d be right for thinking this, but I submit that his pre-presidential nothing looks a lot better than the something he’s done in office. In any case, the gap between Obama’s pre-2008 promise and his performance in office constitutes a greatness-chasm between boast and accomplishment that would make Muhammad Ali blush. At least “I am the greatest” Ali could land a punch.
These thoughts come to mind in connection with Obama’s slowly sliding approval ratings, which place him just one mistake or adverse event away from breaking the unofficial over-under line of 40 percent. There’s only one president who has ever recovered from two sub-40 approval dives: Ronald Reagan. He got many things done, and, needless to say, and the country prospered. Every other president who has slipped below a 40 percent approval rating was essentially done. A compliant media may be able to sustain Obama above 40 for a little while, but even the hordes of hacks can’t prevent the audible quacks of this lamest of ducks.