Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weighing political capital: tragedy vs. popularity


When you're president, there's a fine line between playing politics and doing your job.

When you're a critic, there's a fine line between questioning motives and legitimizing conspiracy theories.

In the eyes of the media, the Tucson shooting became "Obama's 9/11" even before the president gave what every newspaper and network in the country said was a moving speech to the American people.

(One can only imagine what scathing criticisms would have emerged had Obama responded to the shooting by flying over Arizona in Air Force One and surveying the bloodshed through the window.)

One week before Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd of people in a Tucson supermarket parking lot, killing six and injuring 14 others in an attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Obama's approval rating was 45.4 percent. Over the course of a few days, his popularity jumped 3.6 percentage points to 49, according to RealClearPolitics, which takes an average of all the national polls.

Obama's public image did improve because of the Tucson shooting, but to accuse the president of being a heartless bastard for intentionally capitalizing on the event in order to boost his popularity is a slippery slope into fanatical conspiracy theory.

From this perspective, any speech or policy that even marginally improves a politician's popularity among constituents is pursued specifically for that subsequent boost to his public image.

Obama and the Democrats passed a handful of progressive legislation in the final weeks of the lame-duck Congressional session. Can one rationally say, then, that Obama was playing politics and trying to improve his image with gay voters by pushing to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Was he appealing to police officers and firefighters across the nation by advocating for the 9/11 first responders bill? Was he appeasing paranoid vegetable consumers by calling on Congress to pass the food safety bill?

As a general rule, no accusation of political opportunism is relevant when the pronouncements, policies, and legislative priorities of an elected official are the same priorities, policies, and philosophical platforms advocated on the campaign trail.

It matters less how the president looks to his constituents and more what he does when he becomes the apple of their eye.

After 9/11, when President Bush made his famous speech about hunting down the terrorists responsible for plotting the terrorist attacks, Bush's popularity soared to 90 percent. He used that support to invade Afghanistan, then Iraq. He used that support to spit in the face of American civil liberties and to bankrupt the country by more than doubling national defense spending. He used that support to spy on and incarcerate innocent Americans.

So the question is not whether Obama capitalized on the Tucson tragedy in order to boost his popularity. His message of unity, civility, and healing was exactly the response America expected from their president in the wake of such a tragedy.

The question is, will he take that popularity and use it to bomb the shit out of Arizona?

(Cross-posted from Muddy Politics.)

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4 Comments:

  • First of all, do you think your writing eloquence is raised by using using cuss words? Your writing appears desperate to make a point rather than thought provoking enough to allow a reader to make their own mind up?
    Republican presidents historically support military increased spending. The economy began it's downturn when the Federal Reserve relaxed the lending and financing regulations in the late 1990's on President Clinton's watch. Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan gave into the financial institutions pleas for easier lending regulations which is the precursor to the bankruptcy of AIG, Wachovia, Merrlil Lynch, and other former lending giants that now exist in name only having been taken over by other institutions.
    If one believes everything written in the New York Times, they would believe that the economy is faltering due to two wars, and increased military spending, which is not true. The has faltered due to risky lending practices.

    By Anonymous Mary Lou Howard, at 11:36 AM  

  • Really, so Greenspan and his love for Ayn Rand had nothing to do with it, even though he was against any regulation that might actually keep risky investments/lending in check? Please.

    And you're so sensitive that the use of a single "shit" in an extremely well-written post disturbs you?

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 11:59 AM  

  • "they would believe that the economy is faltering due to two wars, and increased military spending, which is not true."

    Ah, truth by assertion again and not a very eloquent assertion either, although the use of such archaic euphemisms as "cuss words" would have us speculating on just what you consider eloquent in the first place. Certainly 'shit' conveys no curse, does it now -- although you'll admit it did provoke you if not your supposedly elevated thoughts.

    But if it offends some Victorian sense of prissiness, have a feast. There's lots of shit to go around.

    And I guess your mind was made up long ago and 'provoking' you to thought isn't likely with one of your refined sensibilities and unassailable lack of factual support, so why do you suggest that mission for The Reaction?. You know very well that what you're looking for is submission or at least agreement. Sorry.

    As to a refutation; I'd go into detail, but assertions without evidence are subject to dismissal without evidence and so, you're dismissed.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 1:00 PM  

  • For the record, I lived in Arizona, which is how I know there is a lot of shit to bomb if ever the president decided he would utilize his newfound support for such ends. Furthermore, I used the word "shit" not so much as a substitute for impeccability in my writing, but as a polite euphemism for what I could have said about the state.

    By Blogger Muddy Politics, at 5:49 PM  

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