Disapproval Ratings Are Earned, Not Given

I was surprised when I read recently that President Obama’s approval rating had dropped from 65% to 55%.

I thought he was doing a pretty good job.  I didn’t think he had done anything during his six months in office to warrant a 10% drop in popularity, a decline that surely reflects dissatisfaction among many of the same people who voted for him.

He wasn’t my choice for president – I was in Hillary’s camp – but he is ambitious, intelligent, and well-spoken, and America fell in love.  Not a good reason to elect a President, but nonetheless, America had spoken.  To me, his rhetoric sounded a tad confident, perhaps naïve, and I was very concerned about what I felt was a lack of experience.

When I saw that his approval rating had slipped, I was ready to chide America for its impatience.  I had prepared a rant about human behavior and instant gratification.  Give the guy a chance, people, I was going to say, as I set out to become one of his cheerleaders.

Then Sgt. James Crowley arrested Henry L. Gates, Jr. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Mr. Obama spoke out publicly about the incident.

My jaw dropped when I heard Mr. Obama’s comments.  He began by admitting that he did not know all the facts.  He said, “I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in it.”  But not having the facts didn’t stop him.  He went on to say that the “Cambridge (MA) police acted stupidly.”

He next recited what he knew of the incident and sprinkled the story with jokes. He used humor to deftly disguise his own assumptions (made without knowing the facts) about the incident.  The audience was in stitches.  What’s wrong with a little levity right in the middle of a prime time news conference focused on health care?  Truth is, he’s a funny guy.  Trouble is, he’s not a comedian.  He’s the President of the United States, and I don’t want him to speak without first knowing the facts.  Our last President spoke without having the facts and we all know where that led us.

When the inevitable criticisms surfaced, he added insult to injury by coyly saying that he didn’t understand all the uproar.

As the Cambridge situation played out, Mr. Obama invited Sgt. Crowley and Mr. Gates to the White House for a brew.  He was his usual charming, well-spoken self as he lightheartedly told the press about his phone conversation with Sgt. Crowley and how they had joked about the reporters on both Crowley’s and his lawn.  His peacemaking gesture was convincing, just as convincing as his initial inflammatory comments and his blithe attitude regarding the hubbub that followed.  Both Gates and Crowley have accepted the invite from the President who has now labeled the incident “a teaching moment.”

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get my jaw back in joint.  I am hoping that his comments are indicative of his lack of experience, rather than an insight into the kind of man he is.

Mr. Obama did nothing to deserve a 10% drop in his approval rating.   It will be interesting to see how America responds to his handling of the Cambridge incident.  If his approval plummets now, he has most decidedly earned it.

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