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The president's approval ratings are based on race

Barack Obama
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

In an interview conducted by David Remnick of the New Yorker that was posted over the weekend, and slated for January 27, 2014 publication, President Barack Obama cited racial animus as the reason that his poll numbers, among white Americans, has fallen recently.{1}

Barack Obama also stated that: “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black president.”

The import of these two statements is that these poll numbers have little to do with the overall aspects of his job performance, the legislation he has proposed, his agenda, or the incidents that have occurred in his second term, and that his low poll numbers are based on a superficiality. One can infer, based solely on these two answers, that the president’s saying that most Americans are basically superficial.

Presidential poll numbers, to follow this characterization of Americans to its logical extension, is little more than a beauty pageant in which some of the scores may be based on how the contestants answer questions, what their talents are, and if they have an extra-curricular, like speaking a foreign language, or helping out impoverished children, but the majority of what goes into Americans scoring a president, like a beauty pageant, occurs in the bathing suit competition. Whether or not Obama can play Rachmaninov on the piano is nice, in other words, but if Obama had different superficial characteristics, we would score his performance better.

One would think that a curious reporter could’ve found a way to ask respectfully countered the president’s assessment with a question along the lines of: “When you took office, your approval rating was 70%. Have people turned racist in your tenure, or was that approval rating also false by some measure?” Another question a curious reporter might’ve asked is: “We know that a certain percentage of the American public is racist, but with your presidency now five years old, is it possible that it might be based on other circumstances, and if so what are they?” A less respectful question might have been, “What percentage of the American electorate do you think has moved past the color of your skin? I know some never will, but these are pretty high negatives we’re looking at here, 53 percent, according to a Gallup Poll conducted Jan. 14-16, 2014. {2} Are this many Americans as superficial as you suggest?” And an even less respectful question that shouldn’t have been posed to any American president would be: “Whether it’s true or not that Americans are largely superficial, what does it say about you, and your view of this country, that you still put such stock in this answer?” Those particular words may not have been used in an interview with an American president, but one would think that a professional reporter would've found some way to allow the president to better clarify his characterization of the American public.

One has to believe that this president knows, deep in his heart, that race is not the reason fifty-three percent of the population disapproves of the job he is doing as president, but in saying that it is race, Obama gets to answer the question anecdotally. The answer cannot be said to be dishonest, in other words, for one would be remiss in saying that there isn’t some anecdotal evidence of some Americans that still harbor ill well for Obama based solely on race. He is also proven to be objective, in some measure, by recognizing that some favor him based solely on race. These answers will leave most of the public saying that he’s right and fair, because everyone knows someone that harbors both feelings for the president based on his race, but most of those same people will probably not notice that Obama was allowed to avoid the other aspects of his current poll numbers in this interview.

Even the most loyal Obama supporter would admit that some of the reasons that some Americans may currently disapprove of the job the president is doing involves the incidents that have occurred in his second term. It’s not surprising that this president, or any president, would want to avoid talking about these incidents, or how they may have affected the perception of his performance, but what is surprising is that a professional reporter allowed the president to stay in his comfort zone on this topic without holding his feet to the fire a little bit, by at least addressing the other possibilities.



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