The Republicans are doing it: Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle and now a Republican candidate for Congress in Arizona, states unequivocally in a campaign ad that “Barack Obama is the worst president in history.”
The Democrats are doing it: In The Wall Street Journal this summer, Democratic stalwarts Patrick Caddell (pollster for Jimmy Carter) and Douglas E. Schoen (pollster for Bill Clinton) badmouthed President Obama, accusing him of a “cynical approach to governance.” They said his divisiveness “has weakened us as a people and paralyzed our political culture.”
In fact, everybody is doing it: According to a recent Gallup Poll, the president’s job approval rating has fallen from 68 percent in January of 2009 to 42 percent in mid-August 2010. A recent Time magazine story explored “How Barack Obama Became Mr. Unpopular.”
An AIDS activist shouts slogans during a protest in New York City on May 13. The president was at a fundraiser in the city and activists were protesting his administration’s policies on AIDS funding.
More and more people are hating on the president. What is a loathed leader to do?
Wailing On The White House
For one thing, says presidential historian Catherine Allgor of University of California Riverside, President Obama should take comfort in knowing that hypercriticism of the president is a revered American tradition. “Even George Washington — who was often regarded as a demi-god — came in for his share of snarky remarks,” Allgor says.
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Venom and vitriol coursed through the veins of early America. Congressman John Randolph called sitting President James Madison weak and feeble, Allgor says, and accused Madison of corruption, bribery and whore-mongering.” Presidents’ wives were also fair game in the public discourse,” Allgor says. “This same Virginia Congressman accused Thomas Jefferson of pimping out Dolley Madison and her sister to foreign dignitaries.”
One problem today, says Douglas Wead, who was a special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, is that older Baby Boomers grew up in the Eisenhower years — when “there was a national consensus leader, after facing an enemy, with moral certainty on our part.” That generation, Wead says, thought that political harmony and relative homogeneity was the national norm. Consequently, the Boomers see the subsequent bitterness in presidential politics as an aberration. “I am afraid,” Wead says, “it is the other way around.”
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