The polls show that the president is the victim of white flight. The New York Times/CBS poll finds his approval rating among whites lower than any president`s in the 30 years the poll has been conducted. Quinnipiac University finds most whites think his presidency a flop.

So what happened to that wide margin by which he was elected? What has he done or not done that could have caused such a precipitous decline in his approval rate? The press doesn`t say because the polls make a hotter, more immediate story, and the reasons for his falling numbers are complex and difficult to portray.

Into this vacuum his enemies rush, declaring him a failure and reveling in his discomfort. The winter of our discontent is a Republican festival, largely because the media establishment is nowhere near as liberal as the Republicans have succeeded in convincing the public, but also because comprehensive reportage is expensive, and the media are interested in cheap profit.

The president`s liberal base, which is largely but not entirely white, has defected because he has turned out to be far more conservative and cautious than they had hoped. The whites who voted for him while holding their noses, simply because George W. Bush had been so disastrous, now regret their decision. The racists are in their glory.

But are the polls telling us enough to understand what is really going on? I doubt it. The president, after proclaiming his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has committed 30,000 more troops and God knows how many more contractors to Afghanistan. After convincingly empathizing with the middle class and the poor he bailed out the rich, no
strings attached.

Nor have his fellow Democrats been much help. They fed him to the wolves when it came to health care reform, his biggest campaign promise. They proved themselves unequal to the task, and while they bickered and sold out the voters to health insurance lobbyists, the Republicans united solidly against reform and almost everything else the president proposed.

The polls, without inquiring into these stories, without painting a broad and nuanced picture, give the impression that Barack Obama`s presidency is all over but the shouting. They are in this context a public disservice, but the pres loves them because they provide hot and simpleminded copy. Sound-byte copy. Sound-byte journalism invariably works to the advantage of reactionary views, simply because progressive views are more difficult to explore. This is the context in which the conservative claim that the press is liberal ought to be challenged.

It may be that as many liberal as conservative whites are now hostile to the President. And it may be that the causes are far more diverse than his critics and sunshine fans can account for. He has been disappointing in many ways to many sectors of the electorate, but the case simply cannot be made that he has governed more incompetently than George W. Bush. Not yet.

And yet that is the case the polls, absent broader and more instructive coverage, are making. It`s a pity, and it`s another aspect of our horse-race culture in which the media are always looking for winners and losers instead of looking for solutions.

 

 

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.  

His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008.

His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.  He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.