After Barack Obama concluded his magical run for the presidency in triumph in November 2008, assorted pundits and self-styled gurus wasted no time chiming in with what America had just experienced. A favorite theory, it seemed, focused on the country’s unspoken desire to feel good about itself after years of reprehensible behavior toward Black folk. Subliminally, Obama’s elevation to the presidency allowed America finally to exhale.
Better believe it, cynicism has its place. And thank heavens for those of us cynical enough to dismiss out of hand psychobabble on that order. Obama couldn’t have been elected without garnering substantial White voter support, of course. To be sure, some of it materialized from genuine enthusiasm among certain sectors – the college crowd, for example, and other better educated, progressive-leaning White folk. For lots of others who wound up voting for Obama, however, the move in that direction couldn’t possibly be all that voluntary. Even if some of those non-Black votes cast for the new president came from voters who weren’t exactly dragged kicking and screaming to the Obama fold, subsequent events have pretty much corroborated that their embrace of this historic candidacy was tepid, at best.
Republicans, in ’08, proved helpful to Obama’s ground-breaking effort as well. Nominating John McCain in a year in which the economy rapidly emerged as the overriding voter concern only made the playing field more friendly for the other side. Here was McCain exposing his glaring deficiencies, in terms of comprehending the economic stranglehold about to blindside the country, looking and sounding altogether outclassed by his opponent. Not to mention insult being heaped upon injury by McCain’s pandering to right-side extremists and choosing a certified airhead as his running mate.
In the euphoria of Obama’s quantum leap into the history books, those key strands of the narrative got pushed way off center stage and well-nigh forgotten. But return they must at this time of reckoning, as the stars don’t seem aligned quite as they were back in 2008. Two years on, the philistines have re-armed and are charging with unbridled ferocity. Obama’s body language may suggest there’s no quit in him, but this is a duel he could well lose.
Poll after poll has been indicating nothing but bad news for Obama and the Democrats. A recent CBS poll is typical, with a finding of 66 percent of those surveyed rating the president’s performance in office as average or poor. It begins to look really scary when a wacko of a candidate like Sharron Angle in Nevada, looking to bump majority leader Harry Reid from his Senate seat, is shown in polls to be leading in that contest. How much more of that kind of incredulity are we in for as these 2010 midterms continue their shakeout process?
And just as certain disparate happenings somehow lined up to redound to Obama’s benefit in 2008, so too this year have there been inputs into the process aiding and abetting the Republican/Tea Party alliance. Not least of these has been the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year gave free rein to the moneyed interests to dole out unlimited funds to players in the political arena, with no obligation to disclose who the donors are. During President Obama’s State of the Union address early this year, he chided the conservative justices who made the decision possible, and there was immediate blowback from that quarter, including some talk of declining future invitations to attend the State of the Union.
Another recent poll, this one by AP-GfK, gets to the meat and potatoes of that softness in the alleged support Obama received from the White sector. Working-class Whites, it reported, favored Republicans over Democrats by a hefty 58 to 36 percent. (“Tell me something I don’t know,” you say.) True, and even when Democrats regained a House majority in 2006 and strengthened their majority in 2008, the trend held among the White working class to be solidly Republican. With a group like this, even if there were a temptation, because of the looming pocketbook difficulties in 2008, to vote Democratic, it would take not much of a push at all for a tilt back to powerful anti-Obama sentiment.
Now, this is not to say that Obama has played these two years exactly right all the way through. The issue of jobs is a legitimate one for hurting Whites as for Blacks similarly entrapped. And there are those who believe that the prioritizing given health care should instead have been given to a massive job creation initiative. It’s clear, though, that even were such a direction taken and had what one would consider a successful outcome, Obama would still, for some, be the personification of all that’s evil: he would be spending too much government money or, as we noted here recently, he just doesn’t look right for the part anyway. The Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world would have made sure to get that chorus up and running even absent our current economic problems.
Getting this badly listing ship of state righted is Obama’s Waterloo, no doubt about it. Chances are he hardly would have figured the first two years to have offered the best opportunity for making serious headway. But at this point that’s very much how it appears.