The Selective Mutism of the Progressive VillagePosted: February 7, 2011
This is going to be long, but it won’t work well to separate it into two posts. So I’ve divided it up into sections that you can read if it’s too much to digest in one sitting.
Part I: Obama’s Truly-Significant-Best-Month-Ever is O-V-E-R
Huffington Post/Chris Weignant, February 2nd:
In January, President Obama’s approval rating went significantly higher, while his disapproval rating continued a trend of dropping with a big spike downward. What both of these meant, taken together, is that Obama is once again “above water” in the polls, with his approval rating beating his disapproval rating. This hasn’t happened since last June. But, in reality, Obama has pretty much erased his past entire year’s slow slide in poll numbers — in a single month. Obviously, he didn’t hit an all-time high in absolute numbers, but still, when taken month-to-month, January, 2011, was Obama’s best month of his entire presidency. Not only did he finally get his bump — but it was a truly significant bump.
Gallup Daily, February 2nd-4th:
Gallup Daily, February 3rd-5th:
I’m not going to waste time putting the Rasmussen tracking chart up, but it shows the same drop. Steve M. over at No More Mister Nice Blog has this to say about it:
Okay, let me interject there for a moment, because I think Obama’s poll numbers dropping off has gotten attention “exclusively from the right”–or at least in terms of what people will cop to paying attention to openly. Since I haven’t seen much discussion in the progressive Village making itself readily available, I’ve been combing through blogs and news outlets trying to find any commentary on the complete reversal of the hyperbolic narrative that was floating just a few days ago–that Obama was King of the Polls again–but almost all of the discussion I’m seeing of Obama’s approvals tanking is coming from the usual wingnut suspects. If you click on Steve M’s “a bit of attention” link, you’ll see an archive of the memeorandum listings under the item on the Rasmussen polling numbers: James Joyner, Gateway Pundit, Hot Air, Scared Monkeys… (the Jennifer Rubin link there doesn’t even discuss the Rasmussen poll.) I don’t see any lefty or even moderate names there, do you?
Anyhow, Steve M continues:
Yeah, yeah, it’s Rasmussen — though, as James Joyner notes, the numbers have worsed in the new Rasmussen poll compared to old Rasmussen polls. Presumably the right-wing bias hasn’t worsened, right? (Call me naive, but I don’t think Rasmussen just makes these numbers up — I think the polls have a right-wing sample bias, and the bias is baked into the data, but that there’s real polling going on nonetheless.)
The reason I take this somewhat seriously is that similar things seem to be happening in Gallup’s daily Obama approval tracking poll – run your cursor over the graph and you see that the president’s approval number was solidly ahead of his disapproval number for much of late January, peaking at 50%-41% in the January 27-29 period. Now it’s down to 45%-47%.
Or, rather, it’s back down to 45%-47%. That’s roughly where Obama was in the Gallup poll pretty consistently from June through early January.
His rationale is that “Obama approval has just returned to baseline”:
So I don’t think Obama’s being hurt by his response to the situation in Egypt (a meme the right would desperately like to spread) so much as he’s not being helped anymore by the three things that met with public favor in the past month and a half or so — the productive lame duck session, the State of the Union address, and (especially) the very well-received Tucson speech.
Wait just a frick-on-a-stickin’ minute there…
Did Steve M just include the president’s SOTU address as one of the three things that met with public favor and had helped his ratings? I’m not so sure about that. In fact, I think it was such a lackluster and forgettable speech that the after-effects of what was left out of the speech damaged his credibility. As Charles Blow noted in response to Obama’s annual address:
President Obama made history on Tuesday.
It was only the second time since Harry S. Truman’s State of the Union address in 1948 that such a speech by a Democratic president did not include a single mention of poverty or the plight of the poor.
And, that’s not all Obama left out. While revolution was erupting in Egypt, with its middle and working class citizens joining together and rising up to demand their human rights and–among other things–an end to persistent unemployment, the president of the United States uttered the words “Egypt” and “Egyptians” not once.
I don’t think in light of what has happened over the last week that Obama’s speech served him well at all. Sure, various instant analysis polls afterward were inflated with happy campers, but that’s out of the people who thought it was important enough to watch the speech in the first place. If you go by the Nielsen numbers, there’s a drop off there too… for goodness sake, even Perez Hilton kept track:
Less people were interested in what President Obama had to say this year.
There was also No SOTU Bump for Obama this year.
I think once Americans had a chance to sit back, forget the words that were in the speech, and observe the events that transpired in their wake, the words that were missing from the president’s address (poor, poverty, Egypt, Egyptians…) have come into stark and stunning relief. Obama is not a “different” kind of politician or president–he is an indifferent one.
If you’re reading this on the frontpage and are interested, there’s a Part II, III, and IV after the fold.
Part II: Village Idiots
By not discussing the fact that their exuberance over Obama’s polling numbers in January was misplaced, the American left–or at least its “progressive pundit” flank–is once again letting the rightwing own the opposition to Obama and letting its pundits shape the narrative of a “Democratic” failure and how the president needs to improve by shifting to the right. The progressive punditry class has no one to blame but themselves when in the weeks and months ahead, the calls for Obama to move further right continue unabated. Every time they’ve had a perfect opening to own the opposition to Obama on any issue and push him left, they have instead remained paralyzed and let the rightwing make all the noise.
The rightwingers are quick to attribute Obama’s drop in the polls to his response on Egypt, and no doubt, that’s had an effect on public opinion. But, the rightwingers have naturally missed the deeper connection here.
It’s not just Obama’s foreign policy weakness that’s been on display this week. It’s his inability to stand firmly with the working and middle class of Egypt, who are sick and tired of 3 decades of leadership that has left the needs of Egypt’s people unmet. Instead, on Friday, President Obama put on quite the show acting as if he were trying to cajole Hosni Mubarak into “transitioning” by appealing to him as a “patriot and a proud” man. Excuse me, but the massacre on the streets of Egypt that we saw on Wednesday and Thursday were nothing to be proud about and they sure weren’t the indications of a patriot who would sacrifice himself for the welfare of his country. President Obama said he was “encouraged by the restraint shown” on Friday. Of course I’m relieved that the army went back to protecting the protesters as they had earlier, but personally I found very little to be encouraged by in terms of “restraint shown” on Friday–it only made the restraint not shown in the 48 hours before that all the more damning.
Obama’s inability to stand with working and middle class Egyptians mirrors his inability to stand with working and middle class Americans. These two deficiencies are not coincidental. They go hand-in-hand.
What else has happened in the last week or so that could have pulled the plug on Obama’s superficial rise in the polls? Well, for starters, this charming piece of propaganda hit the newstands:
And, who is it supposed to impress? Is Obama running for the GOP nomination? If so, The Onion News Network failed to anticipate that development in their report a year ago — “Zombie Reagan Raised From Grave To Lead GOP“:
The face on that zombie is the one that Time should have put on the guy next to Obama in their photoshopped cover.
In a way, I’m almost (not quite) glad to see Time declare that Obama-Hearts-Reagan–it’s cold comfort but nonetheless vindication of every one of us who were cassandras in 2008, voicing our criticisms of Obama from an FDR-left perspective, having our voices silenced by the Kevin Drums of the world.
Speaking of the Kevin Drums… Steve M’s blog entry on Obama’s poll drop goes on to say:
I bring this up only to temper some of the excesses of optimism I’m seeing out there. Is Barack Obama “as good as a shoo-in in 2012″? That’s what Kevin Drum said — on January 24, when (according to Gallup) Obama’s popularity bubble was at near-peak inflation (50%-42%), and when (according to Rasmussen) Obama’s total approval (“strongly” plus “somewhat”) hit 52% for the first time since October ’09. Have we reached (to use John Cole’s phrase) “peak wingnut,” which is what Bill Maher was implying on HBO on Friday night? Well, Rasmussen’s “strongly disapprove” number is down from its peak (47%) last fall — but at 38%, it’s about where it was last spring.
I just think we’re where we were before campaigning heated up last year — Obama’s lame duck/Tucson/SotU bounce didn’t sustain itself. We need real job growth, or drastic GOP overreach, or a 9/11-level national crisis, to change the numbers in a significant, lasting way.
Alright, again, *what* “SOTU bounce” is Steve M talking about?
Other than that at least the commentary above is better than nothing. By and large left blogistan seems to be suffering from its usual bout of selective mutism on this topic–they have yet to show any inclination to re-evaluate all the noise coming from the left over Obama’s “significant bump” just days ago.
At least Digby recently posted a Gallup graph on the stagnancy in the US unemployment rate, so there’s that. In the same post she rants a bit about Obama’s Reagan obsession. More “better than nothing” I suppose, but hardly reading Obama the riot act for his total abnegation of core Democratic principles.
I’m not asking where’s the outrage–I’m asking why is the left continuing to let the right be Obama’s biggest pushback and opposition? He’s cozying up to the ghost of Ronald Reagan, the Reagan right rejects him still, and he cozies up to Reagan’s ghost all the more. The left has totally eliminated themselves from the equation.
Back around mid-January, we cassandras yawned at all the memes about Obama’s uber-duber significant bounce because we knew it was hollow, just like the empty suit himself. Taylor Marsh wrote a piece called “Obama at 53% Means Nothing for ‘12” in which she remarked that:
Obama’s conservative instincts to win back Independents and the “broader middle” as it’s called is what drove him to make the short-sided tax cut deal in December. With Bill Daley on board and Obama already signaling to Wall Street about “dumb” regulations, the President’s move to the Right seems set to continue, though it’s a mistake, because the path to solidifying his 53% lies elsewhere.
From an Elective Eve survey:
The other numbers in that poll show the backing any politician gets from voters when talking about “strengthening” Social Security, instead of following the Republicans’ austerity path.
Obama made the mistake by not fighting against the upper 2% Bush tax cuts in December as well, because the American public was behind him on that, too, same with the public option. So Democrats should be worried whether the White House even senses or cares about these signals.
Indeed. Taylor goes on to warn that:
Obama’s bump in the NBC/WSJ poll should not be misinterpreted, thinking that moving Right is the reason he rebounded. His compassion after the Tucson domestic terrorism tragedy, coupled with good post Christmas good feelings that come with the New Year, both buoyed Obama. This was confirmed today by the pollsters on “Daily Rundown.”
…and misinterpret is exactly what the Obamaphiles went on to do, solidifying not Obama’s 50-whatever percent from January but instead the right-wing narrative that moving to the right is what helped and woe is the president who “lost Egypt.”
Part III: The Exceptions that Prove the Rule
Of course, once we move past the progressive gatekeepers in America and out to the international periphery, there are lefty voices trying to pierce through the rightwing monotony. One of the best examples of that in action…
From the Democracy Now transcript:
ROBERT FISK: Well, immense courage displayed by those who are demanding the overthrow, effectively, of Mubarak, oddly matched by the complete gutlessness of the U.S. administration. In fact, the cowardice of the language coming from Mrs. Clinton in the State Department, the endless calls for restraint and the endless calls of Mubarak being a friend of America, etc.—Mubarak himself being a dictator, runs a secret police state, in effect—against these lone Egyptians who are being filmed by state security, who are being filmed on television around the world, who are giving their names, identifying themselves as being against the regime, it’s been an extraordinary example of lost American opportunities, in fact. You know, I’m on the street with these people. They’re not anti-American. There are no anti—nobody is burning American flags, though I probably would if I was among them and I was an Egyptian in these circumstances. They’ve been immensely understanding of the international situation, but of course immensely betrayed.
Brian Katulis at American Progress wrote a piece earlier last week called “Time to Rethink U.S.-Egyptian Relations“:
The battles unfolding in Egypt’s major cities are likely to continue without clear resolution for some time—most struggles for freedom against an old order take a long time to reach a new point of clarity. But even though the fighting is just the latest episode in rapidly escalating protests, it also is a watershed moment that could lead to fundamental change in the country. That’s why the United States must make fundamental changes in its bilateral relationship with Egypt and its broader policies across the Middle East and North Africa as widespread protests continue across the region.
President Barack Obama should set a new rule for his administration’s policy in the region—when he draws a line in the sand and stakes out a position that is ignored by an ally in the region, there should be consequences, and policy changes should be implemented. In a question and answer session on YouTube earlier this week, President Obama urged the government and protesters to avoid violence, and he called on President Hosni Mubarak to move forward with political and economic reforms. No matter what unfolds in the coming days and weeks, President Obama needs to develop a policy that follows up on those words. Otherwise America’s credibility and power to influence events in Egypt and region will continue to wane.
What line did Obama draw in the sand after the Mubarak regime unleashed its thugs out onto the streets in Egypt on Wednesday and Thursday? The Obama Administration has been as mealymouthed as ever, Robert Gibbs on Friday obfuscating with statements like “I doubt there’s anybody in Cairo that is looking for my definition of their freedom of speech.” But, the question he was asked wasn’t asking him to define their freedom of speech. The question was asking him if the Administration’s position is that it’s not for us in the US to decide, it’s for Egyptians to decide, then what were all the high-level meetings for if not to offer suggestions and options.
I don’t think it’s a stretch here to suspect that the US is really not leaving it up to the Egyptian people and are pushing for Mubarak’s replacement to be Omar Suleiman or someone else they can similarly trust to tow their line. Until they can secure this “orderly transition” of their own choosing, we hear the back and forth obfuscation.
The statement from the Carnegie Endowment’s Working Group on Egypt last week, along with an open letter from a group of 80-something academics including Noam Chomsy, tried to put pressure on the Obama Administration to re-evaluate its Middle East policy… but if the latest fiasco of Obama’s envoy to Cairo urging for Mubarak to remain in place is supposed to be any sign of a light bulb going off in the Obama White House, the WH has utterly failed in that regard.
In fact, if you click on that last link, Robert Fisk reports that:
The US State Department and Mr Wisner himself have now both claimed that his remarks were made in a “personal capacity”. But there is nothing “personal” about Mr Wisner’s connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises “the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government’s behalf in Europe and the US”. Oddly, not a single journalist raised this extraordinary connection with US government officials – nor the blatant conflict of interest it appears to represent.
Yeah, funny that. No meddling in what should be up to the Egyptian people there!
Part IV: Why the Left’s Silence Matters
As Naked Capitalism and Think Progress noted last week, income inequality in Egypt has reached record levels not seen in the country’s modern history but income inequality is actually worse in the US than it is in Egypt.
It’s crucial for left blogistan to point this out–they would be remiss not to.
But, they drop the ball when it comes to connecting the dots.
Obama’s poll numbers are not just dropping because Americans are watching his wimpish cowering in the corner as the Hosni Mubaraks of the world disregard any of his “sternly worded” non-warnings. Sure that does not help, but there is in fact a much deeper undercurrent here which the Obama cheerleaders and apologists are not wont to discuss.
The world is not becoming unstable because protesters took to the streets in Egypt…the world is becoming unstable because under the laissez faire leadership in recent years, the people’s needs have fallen not just to the wayside but completely off the radar of the bonus class and most political elites. Doing the least to keep people quiet has not just been Hosni Mubarak’s MO. It has been the MO of George W. Bush, Obama, and their saintly idol Reagan.
Actually, out of the three, W. was the most straightforward in his complete disregard of the people and had built up the most opposition we’ve seen to the corporate agenda in recent years. Oh he tried during 2000 with all that dubious “compassionate conservatism” but the gig was up well before Katrina hit, and the opposition had begun. Kerry was swiftboated because Kerry himself was not an actual alternative to the Bush machine and could not stand up to them.
Just like Reagan, Obama has come and tried to put a smiley face on that corporate agenda and dissipated all that opposition again.
Thirty years ago Reagan became president, and Sunday was his birthday. I saw the right and the left indulge in endless examinations of Reagan and his legacy over the weekend, and that’s all fine and good. But, what we really need on the left is a thorough introspection on how our own Village is contributing to the continuation of Reagan’s social darwinist agenda by playing into the narratives that keep Obama genuflecting at the altar of a political zombie.
Why in the hell did the left cheer on and champion Obama’s rise in approvals last month like it was something to be happy about? He was caving to Republicans (and the caving was by design). What was there to celebrate about that? His speech in Tucson was a blatant throwing under the bus of the left’s all-consuming focus on Sarah Palin, the rightwing, and their irresponsible rhetoric. I didn’t care for the left turning the Sarah Palin angle into the entire byline of the Tucson tragedy, but it was valid to look at as a footnote, and I didn’t care for how Obama just discarded it wholesale in that facile way of his: “Let us join together, hold hands, kumbayah.” As if.
I believe in the working and middle class uniting together. I don’t think that’s what Obama believes.
He seems more eager to unite the right wing with the batshit to keep his rightward drift at the center of things. And, the left’s silence on this, in their ever-present fear of the bogeywoman of Sarah Palin becoming president or some other such nonsense, has kept them from holding Obama’s feet to the fire.
Meanwhile, I continue to admire the bravery of the people of Egypt in not taking no for an answer. Here’s that video I linked to on Saturday again…at the time of my drafting this essay on Sunday night, the youtube is up to 445,076 views already. I am scheduling this post to go up on Monday, so I’m sure the view count will have risen even more by then. For those who haven’t seen this video yet, it’s footage of the “Departure Friday” protesters in Tahrir square, led by a guitarist off-camera, breaking into song and calling for Mubarak’s immediate exit–despite the fact that Mubarak stubbornly dug his heels in and did not leave on Friday. They have not lost their fighting spirit (as the Al Jazeera live blog on the 14th day of the protests shows), and neither should we:
Translation: Let’s make Mubarak hear our voices. We all, one hand, requested one thing, leave leave leave … Down Down Hosni Mubarak, Down Down Hosni Mubarak … The people want to dismantle the regime …. He is to go, we are not going … He is to go, we won’t leave … We all, one hand, ask one thing, leave leave.