Falling Out Of Love With President Obama

Sep 4, 2013
Originally published on September 4, 2013 2:20 pm

With confrontation in Syria looming, uncertainties about new health care rules arising, evidence of privacy invasion emerging and other generally unsettling issues swirling around, people's feelings about President Obama are all over the map.

Some folks on Facebook — and a number of other Americans — who were at one time supporters of the president are full of questions.

"Before triggering more bloodshed and war in Syria, why not work to get Assad indicted by The Hague," writes one politically involved Virginian who worked his tail off for Obama in 2008.

"If Obama attacks Syria, he can wave goodbye to his chances of doing anything over the next few years. Left-wing activists, who were only recently starting to regain a fractional sense of faith in 'the system,' will drop out again, which could cost the Democrats the White House in 2016," writes a Floridian who worked for the president in 2012.

The shift from support to dissatisfaction is so stark, perhaps, because when Obama was elected in 2008 he seemed to embody a national hopefulness that enabled him to defy the laws of political gravity. At least for a time.

Have re-elected presidents inevitably disappointed some of those who campaigned to re-elect them? If so, why?

"It's not unusual," says Julian E. Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. "Second terms are incredibly tough for a president and their supporters."

There are various reasons for this, Zelizer says:

1. By the second term, midterm elections have often eroded the strength of a president on Capitol Hill — which usually reaches its high point in the first year of a presidency.

2. While the president focuses his second term on building up his legacy, his party — and the opposition — begin focusing on the upcoming election. "Those interests often clash."

3. And by the second term, opposition to a president has usually greatly intensified. Presidents usually have a more extensive record to attack by that point.

So is it inevitable that supporters of a leader eventually become somewhat disenchanted with that leader? Pretty much, says New York City psychoanalyst Kenneth Eisold, who has studied and written about crowd psychology. "In politics, idealization is inevitable because we don't really know those running for office. Our enthusiasm rests on faith, in large part."

And that faith in Obama, apparently, is not what it once was. In a recent NBC news poll, the president's job approval rating stood at 44 percent, which ties his lowest watermark.

Which is not unusual. According to Gallup Historical Statistics, most average approval ratings for recent presidents declined during their second terms. Two exceptions: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

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