When George W. Bush was elected President of the United States, it wasn’t exactly a convincing victory. He and Al Gore fought for every Florida vote through miserable recount after miserable recount. The Supreme Court eventually intervened and the rest, as they say, is history.
While Bush didn’t start off in the best fashion, the nation stood beside him after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. President George W. Bush had a 92% approval rating from September through October of 2001, and stayed above 80% for several months. When he left office, he had the highest disapproval rating of all time. How did this happen?
I presented my views on the Bush Administration here, and clearly he made many decisions that a majority of Americans and presidential historians believe were mistakes. However, I believe there may be more to the negative feelings about him than meets the eye.
Barack Obama made history by becoming the first black man to be elected President of the United States. His victory was a substantial one, winning 365 Electoral Votes to his opponents’ 173. His mantra was Hope, his slogan was Change. And the American people believed him, at least those who voted for him. He ushered in what was expected to be a new era in American politics, after the ugly way the Bush Administration went out. His approval ratings in the months following his election were in the high 70’s, with some polls putting his approval rating as high as 84%.
As I write this post, President Obama has hit a new low of 47% approval in how he is performing on the job. This in spite of passing several key domestic policy agendas which he campaigned on, turning the tide of anti-American sentiment abroad, and staying in the public eye, which has been his strength since he began running for the office.
Politics has always been an ugly business in the United States. So while we may feel like we are in an age of unprecedented mudslinging and dirty politics, we’re really just carrying on a tradition. But we must also acknowledge the impact of the information age. There is more information available today than at any other time in history. News comes to us instantly as it happens through any number of mediums. I personally applaud this, but I also have been burned enough times by misinformation that I will generally fact check several times, using what I hope are credible sources, to ensure what I am getting is the straight scoop.
This has turned attack politics into a new game. Blogs, news sites, mass emails, Twitter, Facebook and a bottomless pit of results from a simple Google search has created open season on politicians. The President is easily Target Numero Uno. Opposition forces, and there are always opposition forces in these tales, will run negative opinion pieces about the President 24 hours a day. The Health Care Reform Summer of Town Hall Meetings may have had a tiny fraction of Americans actually attending, but the coverage of it reached us all. The Tea Party may frequently resemble a hodgepodge of angry people complaining about miscellaneous and frequently disconnected issues, but everyone knows who they are.
This relentless assault on the party in power, with the resulting defensive attacks from their supporters, creates an uncomfortable, confrontational and frequently belligerent mood in the electorate and slowly but surely invades the average American’s psyche. Many Americans are so disgusted with the state of politics in America they choose to avoid the topic altogether.
The President of the United States takes the full brunt of this negative morass that moves slowly across the country’s political id. Attacked continuously by the opposition party, the liberal or conservative media as the case may be, the 24 hour news coverage of it all, and heightened by the social media phenomenon and the blogosphere, his support slips, falters and finally bottoms out. We start to look forward to a new face, someone to put an end to this ugliness. President Clinton embarrassed the nation with his sexual exploits and clumsy attempts to cover it up. Polls consistently showed the American people did not want him impeached. In fact they wanted the coverage of this national humiliation to stop. But there was no way to stop it. The disgust with the outgoing administration made it possible for a bumbling governor from Texas with a lousy track record to defeat a sitting Vice President who presided over a time of relative peace and prosperity. We just wanted to be done with the Clinton Presidency. But by the time Bush’s term ended, we hated him too.
I believe Barack Obama will suffer the same fate. While I personally believe most of his decisions and priorities for the country are better than the prior administration’s, you can already feel the drain of the anger and vitriol. People are fed up, disgusted and starting to tune out. When they do, only the loudest voices get through and those voices may or may not be loudly speaking the truth. Soon we will be looking for a new face, a new tone, a new person to end this uncomfortable political atmosphere. We’ll love him when we elect him, at least a majority will, and the process will start all over again until we hate him on the way out.