The vast array of 100-days literature all aims to answer one question: what is Obama doing so well? Here's a guy who Republicans can't get the media to hold to the same standards; here's a guy who is almost single-handedly pulling the nation's confidence up by its tattered bootstraps. For the first time in memory, even amid a recession that shows no real signs of slowing or abating, Americans are confident about their future. The Old Guard has a few explanations; they are usually historical-at-the-expense of contextual -- that Obama is basically as popular as activist presidents tend to be in their first 100 days -- or contextual at the expense of historical -- That the media and the political culture are treating the new president with too much respect and that Americans aren't smart enough to figure out that he's an avatar for neo-socialism.
I have an five-part answer. It all flows together.
1. Democrats give Obama an approval rating of between 93% and 95% -- higher than they gave even Bill Clinton during his moments of passion. Moderate Democrats and liberal Democrats like Obama for different reasons, but this is their moment, they know it, Obama is blowing the embers from the bully pulpit. Go back to the Clinton era, when Clinton's policy instincts won over moderates and his personality won over liberals. Obama's policy instincts are winning over liberals and his personality -- he really does fit the institution of the presidency -- is perfect for moderate Democrats.
2. Republicans are the party of [REDACTED]. They've not begun to recover from whatever hurricane it was that hit them over the past three-to-four years. But that's almost less important than the way in which they've utterly failed to figure out how to engage this president on his own terms. They're stuck in the Clinton-Bush era of parity partisanship; with a few exceptions, Republican leaders are confused by Obama, they don't understand why his appeal sustains, and they can't figure out a way to change the way they do politics to comport with the new era. The country suffers from the lack of a disciplined, intellectually honest, spirited opposition. Obama's figured out a way to appear bipartisan without getting Republican votes.
3. Independents remain firmly rooted in the Democratic garden. They're skittish about deficits, but they love Obama. They trust him, alone, of all the institutions of and figures in -- government.
4. The first 100 days, the government created trillions of dollars out of thin air, has cut taxes, has given billions and billions to client groups, state governments and corporations. Give, give, give. Not much has been asked in return. Obama's toughest call -- whether to send troops to Afghanistan -- is going to cost him politically when there's a spike in violence -- or when Pakistan explodes -- but this hasn't happened yet.
5. Obama isn't that special. As Thomas Mann notes
, the doubling of the the rate of disapproval among Republicans and the resulting pattern in the numbers suggests that Obama isn't all that different from other, ideologically polarizing presidents. But, as Mann notes, it is one thing to remain popular when crisis aren't pervasive; it is quite another to keep the numbers up when you're forced to sell unpopular economic policies (TARP, bailouts) as a means towards keeping those numbers up.
So -- what's the answer?
6. Obama ran as a change candidate, and while the list of his accomplishments might not compare quantitatively with FDRs, the scope of the policy and personality changes is incredible. And Obama can move policy along with Republicans -- and hasn't yet gotten punished for it.
The President is trusted over the Republican opposition to deal with
the serious problems confronting the country by a margin of more than
two-to-one. The Republican party has gotten smaller, more conservative,
and less popular. The public sees its unified stance against Obama's
proposals as political (the party of "no") and not constructive. That
opposition stance has helped unify Democrats in support of their
president and tilted Independents decisively in his direction. And that
in turn makes Obama even more likely to rely heavily on his own party
in moving important policy changes through Congress.
Read Mann's entire speech. He's not terribly confident that this state of affairs will last forever, and he thinks that Obama will someone have to force the Republicans to cooperate with him at some point in the near future. And he thinks that, at some point, a receipt for the public's veneration of Obama and the institution of the presidency will come due.
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is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.