It must be tough to be a member of the media class these days. The inside-the-Beltway crowd is getting more and more frustrated with the public's refusal to go along with the storyline they are trying to sell... oh, excuse me, that should read "tell," shouldn't it? They've been beating the drum of President Obama's supposed failure from Day One, but that rascally public keeps right on giving him roughly two-thirds approval ratings. In fact, his approval ratings have just not budged during the entire time.
So pity the poor media, especially those commenting from the right. Their frustration in not being able to control the storyline on Obama's presidency must be giving them fits. Their most recent attempt at finding the gloomy lining in Obama's silver cloud was that he is the "most polarizing president ever!" They focus in like a laser beam on a Pew Research poll which shows, in essence, that the Republican Party is shrinking down to its core base of very conservative people. Party identification and satisfaction with the Republican Party is at an all-time low, so it's not that hard to understand that whoever's left is going to be pretty committed to the cause, because all the moderates have left. But although this is the logical conclusion to draw from the data, some pundits on the right are trying to shoehorn this in to their overarching "Obama is a failure" theme.
They fail to mention that the same poll showed Obama with a 61 percent approval rating, which is more than twice his disapproval rating of 26 percent. Two polls (CNN and CBS) came out a day earlier than Pew which pegged Obama's approval at a stratospheric 66 percent. These numbers do not fit the storyline, so they are not even mentioned.
Instead, the story runs something like this:
"This is Mark Helmethair here with Suzy Whiteteeth, and our top story tonight is how Barack Obama has polarized the country. A new poll shows that people who still aren't embarrassed to be called Republicans actually don't like the Democratic president, while Democrats love him. This is polarizing! Polarizing, I tells ya! How will he manage to get anything done when the voters in the opposition party don't like him? I thought he promised on the campaign trail to personally ask every Southern white male their opinion before he did anything, but apparently this quote which I cannot seem to find a transcript of was all lies just to get elected. We really expected Barack Obama to have 80 to 90 percent approval for his entire presidency, and his numbers are falling woefully short of that modest goal. In fact, the country is still polarized and does not agree on Obama's political philosophy, meaning he can only be seen at this juncture as an abject failure."
If you think this is exaggeration, check out what former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gersen recently wrote for the Washington Post. Here's an excerpt:
But Obama's polarizing approach challenges and changes the core of his political identity. His moderate manner and message appealed to a country weary of division and ambition -- a nation now asked to endure another round of both. But Obama's domestic agenda is also resoundingly typical -- as though he were some conventionally liberal backbench senator suddenly thrust into immense influence. Which, of course, he is.
It would have been relatively easy for President Obama to divide the Republican coalition, peeling off less-partisan Republicans with genuine outreach. Many Republicans were prepared to accept short-term deficits to stimulate the economy in exchange for long-term fiscal responsibility. Obama could have focused more narrowly on resolving the financial crisis -- the key to all economic recovery -- and delayed his ambitions on other issues to a more realistic time. In the process, he might have gotten some Republicans to share his political risks instead of nursing grievances on the sidelines.
Polarization in American politics has its own disturbing momentum, aided by some strident Republican voices. But that does not require a president to make it worse. And it is a sad, unnecessary shame that Barack Obama, the candidate of unity, has so quickly become another source of division.
Oh, the shame of getting lots of stuff done -- without Republicans! The absolute shame of being able to pass your agenda without it being carved up by your opponents. The shame of facing the American people after doing exactly what you told them you were going to do!
Are these people serious? Is this truly all they have left? Their essential argument is: Obama can't force us to support him, and it is his fault when we refuse to do so. If he'd only do what we tell him to do, we could support him -- in which case the other two-thirds of the American public would likely not support him, but at least then we'd be happy. The one-third of the country that still agrees with us actually does not agree with the president, which he should be ashamed about.
That's it. That is the sum total of their complaint.
Gersen apparently hasn't realized the irony of even using the term "less-partisan Republicans" (with, one assumes, a straight face), since they have now all but vanished from the halls of Congress. Most of them have been replaced by Democrats. Losing two elections in a row, and continuing to cling to obstructionism as your only new idea, will tend to do that.
So you have to pity the poor right-wing media. They have been trying to create an upsurge in resentment against Obama, because it would be good for their ratings. Over and over again, the media expresses its astonishment each time President Obama does exactly what candidate Obama said he would do if elected. The media tries to magnify every perceived flaw in Obama, whether justified or not, and make it into a lead story.
And the public just is not buying what they're selling.
Over and over and over again, people are weighing their own impressions of our new president with what the media is telling them to believe. For the most part, they are deciding that the media's take is wrong, and are then going on to form their own opinions of the man.
Once again, you have to pity the poor media. Because this is only undermining their own trust with the American people -- which is at an all-time low. Every time people decide that the media has gotten it wrong, they pay a little less attention to the media as a direct result. So the ultimate outcome of this whole exercise will be to make it easier for Obama to communicate directly with the people -- without the filter of the media -- and will only serve to tarnish the media, not Obama.
I guess when you are relying on Republicans to give you your spin on the political situation, the best you can hope for is to follow the Republican Party in its own tailspin down to the crash landing of total irrelevance. Pity the poor right-wing media, indeed.
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant