Dan Rodricks

Obama approval would be even higher in less polarized nation

President Barack Obama speaks during the final press briefing for White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Over the last eight years, I've listened to (and read many emails from) people who blasted away at President Barack Obama in the most hostile terms, and without specifics, which always led me to conclude — too many times, I'm sorry to say — that the complainant's issues were more visceral than reasoned, and in a lot of cases simply prejudiced.

They might have argued that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was horrible for the country — too costly an expansion of a government already too big — but that's as close as I ever got to an articulated reason for a person's despising the 44th president.


I understood it. But it never struck me as a reason to hate the guy.

One day, early in Obama's presidency, I spoke with a Maryland woman who owned a small business, trying to understand why she had joined the tea party. The reason was simple: She thought her taxes were too high.


I didn't find anything particularly unique or compelling about that complaint, even in the midst of the Great Recession. Most people think their taxes are too high. And in 2010, Obama had kept Bush-era tax cuts in place, over the opposition of many liberal Democrats who thought the cuts had been skewed to benefit the wealthy.

I heard people say Obama was not a citizen, not a legitimate president, probably a Muslim, and most definitely a socialist.

Everyone made nice on Inauguration Day 2009, but Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, later described limiting Obama to one term as "the single most important thing we want to achieve."

Just a few months after the inauguration, a woman questioned the president's citizenship at a Delaware town hall and cried, "I want my country back," coining the credo of the Obama backlash.

A Republican member of the House barked, "You lie!" at the president during a speech to a joint session of Congress, in September 2009, an act of rank disrespect.

A Republican member of the Senate said Obama was "intentionally trying to destroy" the country.

And, last winter, with nearly a full year left in Obama's second term, Senate Republicans refused to consider his nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy — fruit of a poisoned tree rooted in the racist birther movement, all of it part of an effort to delegitimize the president.

Obama certainly isn't the first president to be hated. But the level and tone of the personal attacks on Obama — most of it originating in the viscera and not the brain — always seemed over-the-top ridiculous.


He was a person of integrity, intellect, tolerance, humor and honor who must have the thickest skin on the planet.

When you look at his record, fairly and objectively, he's hardly the extreme liberal the haters make him out to be. In fact, his record shows a Democrat with a lot of conservative instincts and beliefs.

Health insurance: The Affordable Care Act is not the single-payer, Medicare-for-all system that liberals wanted; it's a market-based system that includes private, for-profit insurance companies.

Immigration: The Obama administration has deported 2.8 million people who were in the country illegally, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That makes the Obama presidency the toughest in enforcing immigration laws.

Terrorism: A survey of all data from the Islamic State, Pakistan, Africa and Iraq led The Washington Post to conclude last summer that the Obama administration had killed between 30,000 and 33,000 terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. As Vice-President Joe Biden put it during the 2012 campaign: "Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."

Economy: The Obama administration successfully bailed out Detroit automakers. After unemployment hit 10 percent in October 2009, it went down steadily, to less than half that rate in December. The country has had 75 consecutive months of jobs growth.


Gasoline prices: The federal government reported last week that regular gasoline averaged $2.43 per gallon in 2015. That was 93 cents per gallon less than in 2014, and the lowest average price at the pump since 2009. The downward trend continued in 2016. The average price of a gallon of regular last month was $2.25.

I mention gas prices because of a conversation recently related to me: The owner of a successful transportation company in the Southwest was talking to industry colleagues about how much his business grew over the last four years. And this happened, the man claimed, despite Obama. Gasoline prices would be even lower, the fellow claimed, had Obama not been president.

Comments like that, heard in various forms and forums over the last eight years, revealed people's prejudices and served to dash assertions of a "post-racial" America. Many of us, his fellow citizens, just refused to acknowledge Obama or his accomplishments.

But that's OK. His approval rating is a solid 58 percent as he leaves office. It would be even higher in a country less politically, racially and tragically polarized.