I don’t usually answer the Missourian’s daily question, but Wednesday I couldn’t resist.
The question itself was pretty bland: “Are you satisfied with the job that the president is doing, particularly with the economy?”
What really attracted my interest was the fourth answer option. “He’s doing OK, but who am I to say? He has the hardest job in the country.”
That was, I thought, close to a perfect response. The other choices were the standard “Yes,” “No,” “Other,” and the cop out, “It’s too complicated.”
When I clicked on No. 4 at columbiamissourian.com, I was surprised to see that I was in a distinct minority. Most respondents had said “No.”
Maybe I’m blinded by partisanship (I did vote for the guy and I am convinced he’s a native-born Christian), but I’m inclined to think instead that a lot of those “No” voters and many who tell national pollsters the same thing are being misled by the media and confused by the cacophony of criticism, mainly cynical, gushing from the Party Formerly Known as Republican but now undergoing a takeover by Tea Party activists and fellow travelers.
One of the institutional biases that journalists don’t like to talk about is our consistent attraction to the negative. We’re drawn to bad news like moths to flame. Lord knows, there’s plenty of bad news available these days, much of it centered on the economy; but even the best of us are susceptible to over-simplifying.
For example, the Missourian referred to a New York Times report of a televised conversation Monday between President Obama and what the paper described as “disillusioned supporters.”
The only thing wrong with that description was that it was misleadingly incomplete. If you watched that hour, as I did when CNBC rebroadcast it Monday evening, you saw that the crowd also included hopeful and even grateful citizens.
One of the “disillusioned” was a self-identified hedge fund titan who was feeling picked on. The president’s response to him was, I thought, a lot kinder than the puffed-up parasite deserved.
The broader over-simplification shows up repeatedly when the national media – and I use the word deliberately to include both reporters and commentators, print and broadcast – write and talk as though the president were all-powerful, instead of constrained by the realities of an unresponsive Federal Reserve, a dysfunctional Senate and an implacable opposition.
The largely obscured fact is that President Obama has accomplished a great deal.
Ezra Klein, who blogs on the economy for the Washington Post, pointed out that some of the most important achievements looked like “pipe dreams” before they came true. Those included health care reform, which eluded leaders from Truman to Nixon to Clinton and which will cover 90 percent of all citizens and eventually save billions of dollars.
Another “pipe dream” was the stimulus package, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office assesses has saved millions of jobs and invested billions in green energy, health information technology, high-speed rail, universal broadband, medical research and infrastructure.
Another was the Race to the Top education reform, which is reshaping and strengthening public education. Klein concludes, “No recent president has invested in the country on anything like that level.”
I’ll bet many of those “No” voters, like me, had overlooked or forgotten much of that. And the new consumer protection agency? Saving the auto industry? Those have gotten lost, too, in the barrage of bad news and the deliberate lies of the Tea Partier Republicans.
Politifact.com, that helpful fact checker created by the St. Petersburg Times, keeps a running tally of President Obama’s promises. So far, of more than 500 promises made, he has kept 122, with 238 in the works, 82 stalled (mainly in the Republican-blockaded Senate) and only 22 broken.
That’s why I said he’s doing OK. How did you respond?
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.