For an outgoing two-term U.S. president, Barack Obama’s current approval ratings are actually quite good. Recent polls have shown that around 55% of Americans view him favorably — an eight point jump since the beginning of the year, and the most popular he’s been since shortly after winning re-election.
History books (and the Democratic party) will probably cite these numbers as evidence that the American public was relatively happy, for the most part, with Obama’s job as our president. Other figures, however, tell a different story.
As is often pointed out, the right track/wrong track sentiments of the American public haven’t gotten better under Obama. He came into office at around 30/60 (during the height of the Great Recession, when there was great national fear and uncertainty), and that’s pretty much where he’s at today. Those numbers have, of course, fluctuated a bit over the past eight years, but the last time more than 35% of Americans felt optimistic about the country’s future was early 2013. And for only four months out of those entire eight years did that number ever exceed 40%.
Additionally, the polls continue to show that Obama has been the most polarizing American president since the 1950s, with a nearly 70-point gap in partisan approval.
With our national debt quickly closing in on $20 trillion, wages stagnant, the terror threat out of control, and the Affordable Care Act (Obama’s signature achievement) devastating family-budgets across the country, one has to wonder why it is that our president’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past year.
Actually, I think the answer is pretty obvious, and I’m betting you know it too.
The two candidates with any chance of taking over Obama’s job next year are quite possibly the most disliked presidential nominees in American history. Both are viewed as wildly dishonest and corrupt individuals, who are grossly inept, personally unappealing, and downright embarrassing. The situation is so bad that most Americans tell pollsters that they’ll be voting against someone rather than for someone in this election.
While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been waging the ugliest, most media-saturated campaign of my lifetime (to the backdrop of sexual assault allegations and FBI investigations), Obama has managed to look presidential in comparison. He’s kept somewhat under the radar (as best a president can), while the focus of voters has been trained on the freak-show circus we know as Election 2016.
Most Americans are more concerned about the future than they are the past, and right now, the future feels pretty scary — so scary that the past already seems like the “good old days.”
But there’s a reason we ended up with this bleak-looking future, and President Obama was by no means a bystander in it. In fact, he may actually be more responsible for it than anyone. In his recent campaign efforts for Hillary Clinton, he’s reminded us of just why he’s the most polarizing president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In Ohio earlier this week, he explained to a crowd that the presidential race is tight, not because of Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate, but because American men are sexist. He claimed that Hillary Clinton is “consistently treated differently than just about any other candidate,” and that “there’s a reason we haven’t had a woman president.”
Of course, we could have had a woman president in 2008, but we didn’t because Obama chose to run against Clinton in the Democratic primary, and had the misogynistic gall to actually win. For some reason, that didn’t come up in his speech. We just know that it’s not his fault, bur rather ours: American voters — specifically men.
Obama told the crowd, “I want every man out there who’s voting to kind of look inside yourself and ask yourself, if you’re having problems with this stuff, how much of it is that we’re just not used to it. So that, like, when a guy is ambitious and out in the public arena and working hard, well, that’s okay; but when a woman suddenly does it, suddenly you’re all like, well, why is she doing that?”
It was vintage Obama — pinning a result on societal bigotry and inequality, rather than on the consequences of specific actions (in this case, Hillary’s actions).
Obama didn’t run on this type of rhetoric in 2008; back then, he was still talking about national unity. However, it quickly became the central theme of his presidency, and has remained as such. Dividing Americans along demographic lines (whether they be ethnic, economic, gender, etc.) has been a continual means-to-an-end strategy for Obama.
At times, the strategy has been used to deflect criticism off of his administration, like in the 2012 election, when affluent Americans not paying their “fair share” were turned into the reason our economy wasn’t recovering.
Other times, the strategy has been used to damage the brand of the opposition party, like when Obama (in stated good will) invited Paul Ryan to introduce entitlement reform, and then trashed him for wanting to hurt old people, once he did. The War on Women is another example, as is the removal of the word “illegal” from the immigration debate, in order to fuel a racial narrative.
Obama has also propped-up allegations of racism in local police matters, when having no idea if race played a factor. When it comes to the War on Terror, he offers harsher words for faceless Islamophobes than he does actual Islamic terrorists.
And when his surrogates have lowered the level of discourse even further, he has remained silent. I believe this country crossed a threshold back in 2012, when our president refused to denounce his super PAC’s framing of Mitt Romney as being responsible for a woman’s cancer death.
Such rancor has divided and conquered the electorate, leaving half the country feeling like hapless victims, and the other half feeling as if they’ve been persecuted for a crime they didn’t commit.
The result: one 2016 presidential nominee who had to adopt the rhetoric of a socialist in order to win her primary, and another who won it by waging war on political correctness, the political establishment, and even common decency.
I don’t put all of the blame on President Obama, but as the leader of our nation, he steered us onto this narrow, winding road. He may have managed to jump from the driver’s seat to safety, but now our country is scraping along a guardrail, and sending sparks into the air, while two obnoxious kids in the front seat fight over the steering-wheel.
A lot of us predicted the lasting effects of this culture of division, and unfortunately, we’re seeing every day on television (and across the nation) just where it has taken us.