The Enduring Mystery of Barack Obama

Under our Constitution, unlike a parliamentary system, the chief executive has no direct relationship with Congress. He can, of course, veto legislation, but historically the president’s power has been judged to be largely a function of his personal stature. To the extent that a president holds sway over Congress, it is because he is popular with voters.

The odd thing about Barack Obama is that he has never been a popular president. Yet somehow he was re-elected, and he continues to be taken seriously as a political force. This chart shows President Obama’s Approval Index, as measured by Rasmussen Reports, from his inauguration to the present. The Approval Index simply measures the difference between the number of likely voters who Strongly Approve and who Strongly Disapprove of the president’s performance. If the index is negative, it means that more voters Strongly Disapprove than Strongly Approve:

Currently, Obama’s standing with voters is poor. His overall approval stands at 46/53, and the Approval Index, which measures intensity as well as overall approval, is worse at 22/43, a dismal -21. Nearly half of all voters strongly disapprove of Obama’s performance in office.

This is not a function of the scandals that have bedeviled Obama’s second term. On the contrary, a plurality of voters have strongly disapproved of his performance since 2009, when it became evident that he would govern as a leftist. As the 2012 campaign approached, his Strong Approval percentage predictably rose, as Democrats rallied to their candidate, despite the misgivings that had been evident throughout the first term. Still, on election day the Approval Index was substantially in the red. Following Obama’s re-election, his critics gave him a second honeymoon as Strong Disapproval dropped briefly. But that, of course, didn’t last: Strong Disapproval is now back to a heavy plurality at 43%, and the Democrats who rallied to Obama’s support during the election campaign have fallen away.

These numbers tell a story that has never been adequately reported upon. From the beginning, Obama has been trying to take Americans in a direction where they did not want to go, and they–by far the largest number of Americans–have been resisting strongly. And yet Obama has achieved a considerable degree of success in moving the country leftward. Not only that, he got himself re-elected, seemingly against all odds. How has this been achieved with so little popular support? Isn’t there a reporter somewhere who would like to take a closer look?

Probably not. In addition to the free pass that all Democrats get from their fellow Democrats in the press–pretty much all reporters and editors are Democrats; the exceptions are so rare as not to be worth mentioning–Barack Obama has gotten a special exemption due to his status as the First Black President. But we are now going on five years into his administration, which has been, by any rational accounting, a disaster for the United States. Do those who interpret events for the average citizen seriously believe that at this point, Obama’s skin color is the most pertinent fact about him? If so, what does that tell us about our national press? If not, then what can possibly explain Obama’s seeming ability to defy gravity; to be fawned over, five years on, even as a substantial plurality of voters say he is doing a lousy job? Isn’t there a story there somewhere?