The White House will need a few days to clean up the stink bomb the Pew Research Center just dropped on President Barack Obama. He’s only one year and four months into his presidency so he has time to turn it around, but therein lies the problem - he has to turn it around.
Never likely to become the president he portrayed in his campaign, now the Pew Research Center concluded after extensive polling that distrust of the US government has fallen to a 50 year low - 22%.
While we predicted those around Obama would exploit him, a fear sadly proven, a certain fascination also took hold when we realized two bodies were about to collide. Obama’s soaring rhetoric form a comet, with the destabilizing world awaiting him like a red giant.
Obama is no realist. He represents the pinnacle of idealism versus realism and reality is winning.
“Rather than an activist government to deal with the nation's top problems, the public now wants government reformed and growing numbers want its power curtailed. With the exception of greater regulation of major financial institutions, there is less of an appetite for government solutions to the nation's problems - including more government control over the economy - than there was when Barack Obama first took office.”
The report, while significant in its authority, reveals few unknown truths.
“The current survey and previous research have found that there is no single factor that drives general public distrust in government. Instead, there are several factors - and all are currently present. First, there is considerable evidence that distrust of government is strongly connected to how people feel about the overall state of the nation. Distrust of government soars when the public is unhappy with the way things are going in the country.”
What a shock.
Part of these findings are skewed by an extreme Republican backlash. If even 20% of conservatives found Obama more appealing this story wouldn’t exist, but his ratings are in the low teens. Some of their criticisms - and all of the ad-hominems - are unjustified. However, conservatives also have legitimate concerns to how the Obama administration is reforming the US government and economy.
In such a pivotal time it was critical for all political sections of America to contribute, but Obama soon dropped his bipartisan promise in order to steamroll health care. A withering economic recovery combined to turn off Independents in the process.
“A particular subgroup of independents, who are financially pressed, chronically distrustful of government and who typically lean to the Republican Party, appears to be especially angry today,” reports Pew.
Limiting special interests is also proving too daunting.
“When asked about a series of criticisms of elected officials in Washington - that they care only about their careers, are influenced by special interests, are unwilling to compromise, and are profligate and out-of-touch - large majorities (no fewer than 76%) agree with each of the statements.”
And though the report stays silent as usual on foreign policy, the main source of distrust from Democrats must be the continuation of Bush’s militarism in the Middle East. For starters the majority of Obama’s support in Afghanistan and Israel comes from the GOP. Human rights activists are losing what’s left of their hope in Darfur and Guantanamo.
While none of these factors are surprising they still deal an assault to the Obama administration. His problems would be minimized if he simply hadn’t promised so much, but that was the price for becoming elected, a gamble evident from the beginning. That burden is his alone.
Apparently believing Americans would settle for a decent term, Obama faces the reality that Americans and the world’s people truly expected a great performance - because one was necessary. It may never come.
Even if Obama grows into the job he’s still surrounded by the same people who sowed distrust for decades.
Drawing on a full deck of Clinton hands and mixing in a few Bush 1s and 2s, Obama is surrounded by the failure of yesterday. Clinton’s 29% trust undoubtedly had to do with Monica Lewinsky, but his administration’s financial and foreign policy errors exploded in George Bush’s hands. Meanwhile Bush’s disastrous foreign policy marches on under the blatant disguise of Gates, Petraeus, and crew.
Separating what is and isn’t Obama’s fault isn’t easy, and some of his domestic policies may succeed in the long term, but his personal promises and the company he keeps is on him. America wouldn’t be where it is today if he were as transformative as advertised. "Change" isn't coming.
This reality is weighing down Obama, Washington, Americans, and to a degree the world.