There are a number of isolated incidents that, in the great scheme of things, should be seen as rather trivial. But they are gaining symbolic importance, which is working against President Obama.
While the president is sermonizing on global warming in connection with his Asian tour and the visit of India’s head of state, we get the release of hacked emails from the British climate research center that seem to make a mockery of the entire climate-change debate — reducing it to the nasty level of academic infighting, fraud, and con games that we have become accustomed to in the postmodern Western university. At a time when the president is asserting the need for radical changes in our lives, the “science” that he once insisted would be the cornerstone of his new administration, appears shaky at best, and at worst a sort of 19th-century phrenology.
Bowing should not matter either. Obama did not bow to the Queen of England, but rather sent her I-pod photos of himself; yet he did kowtow to a Saudi royal, a Japanese emperor, and now a Chinese head of state. Like it or not, the image conveyed is that an American president defers to non-Western royalty and grandees in a way that is supposed to suggest, in symbolic fashion, that America is just one of many countries, without much exceptional about it and without much of an affinity for the West.
If multilateralism was the objective, it came out instead as obsequious deference. Whereas Bush’s backrubs and Carter’s frontal kisses were reflective of American casualness and too much informality, the bowing seems for some reason a far more bothersome gaffe. And as with Obama’s apologies, what we thought was a one-time slip turns out to be a systematic pattern that reflects an apparent worldview.
Then there were the ACORN videos. These 60 Minutes–like gotcha clips should not have been that much of a big deal either — except that two aspects of the ACORN story resonated deeply. (1) Community organizing seems like a cynical, sordid business. (2) At a time when the country is broke and big taxes are on the horizon, criminally-minded organizations for some reason have no problem garnering millions in federal dollars.
Again, in all these incidents, there is a certain roughness and crassness that infuriates the public — e-mails nearly rejoicing over the death of a climate-change-skeptic, an obsequious president bowing before autocrats like the Chinese and Saudis, and community organizers gleefully offering advice on child prostitution.
Obama’s numbers are sinking, of course, because campaign rhetoric is always easier that real governance, and his liberal agenda of nationalization, the federalization of health care, cap-and-trade, higher taxes, and mega-deficits consistently meets with hostility in public-opinion surveys.
So far, the affability of the president has offset the unpopularity of his agenda and kept his positive ratings between 45 percent and 55 percent in various polls. But when the public gets a whiff of the nasty fraudulence of the global-warming cadre, the Chicago-style villainy of ACORN, and reset-button diplomacy reduced to photogenic groveling, it hurts the president where he needs to be the strongest — if he is to push America hard to the left, where it doesn’t seem to wish to go.