It has been an interesting feature of President Obama’s poll ratings that even though his job approval ratings in general have been on a slow, steady decline, his personal popularity has continued to poll strongly. People like the President, and because of that the Romney camp has been a bit cautious in how it attacks the incumbent: “He’s a nice guy, but he’s in over his head.”
But it has become increasingly apparent lately that the President is not really all that nice.
The first indications emerged in the 2008 campaign. Obama’s put-down, “you’re likable enough, Hillary” in the last New Hampshire debate had all the dismissive cruelty of the Most Popular boy patronizing the class geek who had the impertinence to challenge him for Student Council president. And of course there was the famous reference to “bitter people… clinging to their guns and their religion” in the face of changes they don’t understand. That comment probably had the bien-pensants of the Bay Area nodding in sympathy for the poor ignorants out there in flyover country; for the clingers themselves, it revealed contempt.
Far from being the post-partisan uniter rising above politics, this President’s modus operandi is to pander to his base by slandering the opposition, whether real or imagined, and if that requires distortion and half-truths, so be it. Thus we hear that insurance companies and banks base their business models on defrauding and abusing their customers. Oil companies are singled out for their profitability (although you can bet they would get no sympathy of oil prices collapsed and profits declined alongside).
Even individuals, guilty of nothing other than working hard and being successful, are pigeonholed as fat cats, millionaires and billionaires, private jet owners, and the like. The Occupy movement amplified on this rhetoric, going so far as to circulate the home addresses of certain corporate leaders so protesters could harass them where they live. Rather than seek to defuse this class resentment, Obama has made their hatred of the 1% his campaign motif.
With actual political opponents, Obama has shown no compunction about reaching down into the ranks of junior Congressmen to criticize by name certain Republican members. And when the President of the United States calls you out in a speech, it gets your attention. He also takes a certain pleasure in publicly criticizing opponents as they sit in the front rows as he speaks. He did that with the Supreme Court at his State of the Union address last year, and he did it again just after Paul Ryan’s budget was released last year. Ryan sat by invitation in the first row, expecting the President to extend an olive branch; far from it, Obama blasted the budget for the first half of the speech before proceeding to his own ideas.
And if you think that is intimidating, how about this: the President’s own campaign web site has a list of big-ticket donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign. These are private individuals seeking to exercise their Constitutional right to support the candidate of their choice, and the Obama campaign calumnies them with slanders and half-truths: “Describing the givers as all having “less-than-reputable records,” the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that “quite a few” have also been “on the wrong side of the law” and profiting at “the expense of so many Americans.””
This kind of attention from the head of the Justice Department, SEC, IRS, and various other enforcement agencies is not just unseemly; it comes close to abuse of power. It is certainly one good way to frighten people away from Romney’s support.
The man is no gentleman.
The flip side of this contempt for his opponents – or even ordinary people – is the President’s own narcissism. I am certainly no clinical psychologist, but it’s pretty evident that this is a man who has a uniquely elevated view of himself. Recall his speech in Berlin where he promised his election would mark the moment when “the seas stopped rising and the earth began to heal.” Or his grandiose Greek column stage setting as he accepted the nomination in Denver. One got the sense that he almost believed he deserved that Nobel prize.
“I have a gift, Harry.” So he described his oratorical prowess to the Senate Majority Leader. This despite the fact that his rhetoric has been notably ineffective on important issues: despite dozens of speeches, he never persuaded a majority of Americans to support the Affordable Care Act; his Cairo speech failed to move the needle on our image in the Muslim world; his lobbying in Copenhagen failed to reach a meaty climate change agreement; his last-minute intervention to win the 2016 Olympic games for Chicago also fell short.
Nonetheless, he told Arkansas Rep Marion Berry that comparisons between the upcoming 2010 elections and the 1994 Democratic calamity were unfounded: “the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.” This despite the fact that his stumping for Democrats in hig-profile elections in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey all resulted in Republican victories.
The most recent exhibition of this high self-regard came in the President’s recent remarks on the one-year anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. I applauded the President at the time for making a gutsy call, and he is within his rights to take a victory lap – although, typically, he spoiled a fine national moment of shared pride by turning it into a crass political attack on Mitt Romney. This was simply unnecessary, and worked to Obama’s disadvantage to be so small-minded about it; one gets the sense that he couldn’t help himself.
But it was his repeated use of the first person – “my CIA” had the intelligence – that revealed the true narcissist in Obama. There was precious little recognition of the decade’s worth of painstaking intelligence (including enhanced interrogation techniques) that made the moment possible, and little as well of the Seals who actually took the personal risks in the raid. It was as if the whole undertaking was Obama’s.
I acknowledge that it takes a pretty solid ego to get to be President. But not since Nixon have we had a President who keeps tabs on his “enemies” like this one, not since Roosevelt have we had one who so freely condemns the well-to-do. And I don’t think we have ever had one with such sublime self-regard as Barack Obama.