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Obama honeymoon still hearts and roses?

By Margaret Ann Williams - posted Friday, 3 April 2009

Last weekend, in a bookshop in Charlottesville, Virginia - home of the University of Virginia - a children’s choir crooned a song the kids had written themselves. The lyrics went roughly like this: “Obama, he’s gonna, change the world!” Adorable - until you wonder what changes these well-dressed, attentive kids have in mind. Their own small worlds are probably quite comfortable.

And there’s something weird about American kids literally singing the praises of their dear leader.

The Obama honeymoon is still mostly hearts and roses. Americans don’t care whether the DVDs their leader gave British Prime Minister Gordon Brown actually work in British DVD players. The big issues here are unemployment, education and health policy, but Americans also just love the idea of White House vegetable gardens and virtual Town Hall meetings with the President.


President Obama surely embodies his nation’s view of its best self - the President from Central Casting, who makes the hearts of his country “folk” swell with pride. Graceful, thin, refined, polite, mixed-race, intelligent, thoughtful, lovely family, did I say thin? … Etcetera. What party-pooper could complain?

Except … the inauguration champagne bottles had scarcely been put out for recycling before this perfect new reality started to fray at the edges. At the start of his presidency, polls showed 60 per cent approved, only 20 per cent disapproval. Now another 10 per cent have come in from the sidelines to disapprove, and the peak of nearly 65 per cent approval in late February has subsided back to 60 per cent. In mid-March, Obama’s Gallop poll approval showed him slightly above George W Bush’s rating at the same point of his presidency, with disapproval ratings about the same.

We’re not talking full-blown buyer’s remorse, here. Just a little cognitive dissonance: that uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously; love the dude/does he know what he’s doing?

Unemployment is at 7 per cent, the deficit seems infinite, and heath care reform is back on the agenda - having already defeated several presidents (and one First Lady).

The presidential decisions most difficult to rationalise are the ones that are easiest to understand.

Only a week after inauguration, Senate confirmation hearings for the new administration ran into embarrassing roadblocks. It tuned out former Senator Tom Daschle, the nominee for Health czar, had enjoyed a fancy chauffeur-driven car and other perks, courtesy a company he’d informally lobbied for - without paying tax. Then Timothy Geithner, nominee for Treasury, had to confess he hadn’t paid all his taxes, either. This was a deep irony: the Treasury Secretary is in charge of the Internal Revenue Service, the US tax collection agency. Every taxpayer got the point: the top dog didn’t pay (why should I?).


The same story was repeated with other Obama nominees. It seemed as if there were no qualified Washington bureaucrats or high-level Democrat who actually paid the tax they owed. The joke on late-night TV ran: “how do you get a Democrat to pay taxes? Nominate them to Cabinet.”

Next came the mortgage bailout. Despite reassurances, this time the nagging little voice said: “Why should people who used their house as a piggy bank, or bought a big house they knew they couldn’t afford, be given a free ride?” Even the most kind-hearted Americans, and there are many, swallow hard at the thought of their tax dollars going to the greedy speculators living in the huge spec house around the corner.

Americans in colder states might notice, too, that it was mortgage defaults in the sunbelt states of California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida that sparked the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Through February and March, the nation seethed with rage towards bankers. People felt ripped-off.

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About the Author

Margaret Ann Williams has a Masters in journalism. She is presently living in the United States.

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All articles by Margaret Ann Williams

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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