Stillwater News Press


July 12, 2014

GENE LYONS: Why Obama makes the GOP panic

STILLWATER, Okla. — If you pay too much attention to opinion polls, as most people do, doubtless you've heard that a plurality of voters has judged Barack Obama the worst president since World War II. Thirty-three percent, to be precise, which as it conflates almost exactly with the number of hard-core Republicans, merely tells you something you already knew: GOP partisans dislike Obama with irrational zeal.

A presidential poll whose results might be worth heeding would measure the opinions only of people who could actually name the 12 U.S. presidents since 1945. I'm guessing that'd be maybe 10 percent of the electorate, tops.

Anyway, to put the bad news about Obama in perspective, back in 2006 when George W. Bush was in his sixth year in office – typically the nadir of a two-term president's popularity – the same Quinnipiac poll found that 34 percent of Americans judged him the worst since 1945.

Even the sainted Ronald Reagan's job approval numbers took a sharp drop during his sixth year due to the Iran-Contra scandal – selling missiles to Iran to finance right-wing terrorists in Nicaragua.

Politically, the make-believe rancher turned portrait painter has become The Man Who Wasn't There. Because Bush's record is pretty much indefensible – asleep on 9/11, imprudent tax cuts, an unfinished war in Afghanistan, weak jobs creation, a financial meltdown that damn near destroyed the world economy, trillion dollar budget deficits, an unjust, failed war and unfolding geopolitical catastrophe in Iraq – Republicans not named Dick Cheney make no serious effort to defend it.

Instead, they insist that the world began anew with the inauguration of Barack Obama. All references to the astonishing mess his predecessor left behind are forbidden lest one be accused of playing the “blame game.”

Of course Obama promised to transform America. “That's what presidential candidates do,” Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum writes. “I believed then, and still believe now, that Obama is basically a mainstream Democrat who's cautious, pragmatic, technocratic, and incremental ... (But) by now, the evidence is clear that millions of Obama voters really believed all that boilerplate rhetoric.”

Hence bitter disappointment on the sentimental left. However, the real believers in Barack the magic enchanter have been Republicans. His presidency has driven a substantial proportion of the GOP electorate completely around the bend. To a remarkable degree, the party of Lincoln has metamorphosed into a Confederate-accented political cult on apocalyptic themes.

“The unhinged versions of this sensibility,” writes New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait, “held that Obama had launched a sinister ideological assault on the Constitution and American freedom, perhaps in the name of Islamism, or socialism, or somehow, both.”

Along with existential panic goes an inability to keep things in proportion. Benghazi equals invading Iraq. The IRS “scandal” equals Watergate. Forty-five consecutive months of job growth and shrinking budget deficits get airbrushed out of the picture.

Over time, fear will abate. Then we'll see what we see.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner.

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