Barry’s presidency hasn’t begun as smoothly as his faithful flock had hoped. Even before Inauguration Day, then President-elect Obama had to continually nominate and rescind nominations for his not-so-thoroughly vetted cabinet candidates (Do you know the fourth nominee for Secretary of Commerce’s name?).
From the outset of his presidency, Obama has faced a once-in-a-century economic challenge from collapsing industries integral to the American economy. This administration’s so-called bailouts of sub-prime borrowers, America’s big three automakers and the Wall Street fat cats who stole and swindled investors have faced scathing criticism across the board.
Yet our newly minted Commander in Chief has enjoyed 60 percent plus approval rating of his job performance through his first 100 days. Despite the controversy and criticism that the Obama team faces as they restructure our collapsing economy, the American people will give our president the thumbs up for at least the next few years. How did Barack earn a coveted “get out of jail free” card from the American people?
The simple explanation of this phenomenon is that Americans are willing to give the new president a little bit of time and maneuverability before they jump to judgment on the success of his presidency. It doesn’t hurt Barack that he isn’t following too tough of an act, as president numero 43 set the bar pretty low for his successor. As long as Obama doesn’t choke on a pretzel or try to put food on his family, most of us are patient enough to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. But there is something else besides American’s “honeymoon” with our new president that is keeping him afloat in a sea of fiscal misfortune — Obama’s popularity isn’t due to his progressive policies nor his post-partisan rhetoric.
A significant aspect of Obama’s mass appeal lies in his family’s image as wholesome role models for all American families. Not since the Kennedy’s Camelot has the White House been such a fixture of American pop culture. Even though a majority of Americans cannot name our three branches of government, many of them own commemorative plates and designer bags sporting our Commander-in-Chief’s likeness. Obama’s daughter Sasha has better name recognition than his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel. One of perhaps the most lasting memories from election day was Obama’s promise to give his daughters the dog that they “earned.” The Obama family’s search for a pet was as widely covered as the President’s search for cabinet members. Obama’s soulmate has become a trendsetter and epitome for the hard working American woman. Michelle Obama’s toned biceps have transformed the First Lady into a new symbol for feminism. However amiable the First Family is, Obama’s past and his self-presentation are central to what polls call Obama’s “likability.”
During the campaign, John McCain and the GOP decried Obama’s youth and inexperience as his biggest weakness. In fact, his image as an “outside the beltway” reformer who could add a fresh and revitalizing voice to a stale dialogue likely won him the election. When change became the clear buzzword of 2008, Obama’s character and family history provided him the background to match his soaring rhetoric. In contrast, young people had difficulty seeing modernity and vitality in a man who couldn’t use a computer and came across as a nap-deprived septuagenarian when he referred to his opponent as “That One.” In a country where the word “politician” is synonymous with “crook,” Obama’s greenness and relative inexperience was a strong asset in attracting new voters.
Any pollster will tell you that the fastest growing demographic in America are young people and minorities. Although political commentators doubted from the outset of the candidacy whether Americans were ready to elect an African American to the White House, Obama’s culturally diverse background provided an enticing alternative to the WASP-y men we have elected to the Presidency throughout our entire history. In Dreams from my Father, Obama’s admission that he experimented with drugs and “did a little blow” in college proved that he wasn’t groomed and bred for a career in the spotlight. Rather, Obama’s journey from community social activism to civil service on a federal scale served as an inspiring example to many young people that you don’t have to inducted into Skull and Bones to be president.
Barack Obama is not just a pop star; he was elected president because people saw substance and solutions in his rhetoric. And I’m not saying that I’m going to support Obama’s toxic mortgage bailout because he listens to Ludacris. But it is something worth noting when a single politician energizes a populous that is usually characterized by political apathy and low voter turnouts.
American politics has always been dominated by a cult of personality. Since the invention of the television, our leader’s voices and images have played defining roles in their political careers and our elections. FDR’s fireside chats restored our country’s collective faith in the American economy. Nixon’s sweaty upper lip helped lose him an election to JFK. And perhaps, Obama’s image as the first “cool” president will give him the support and faith of the American people through the rough and tumble beginning of his presidency.