Maybe it was just that 1/20th of a second, but Barack Obama looks really, really tired. Perhaps his facial muscles aren’t used to his new “fuck it, we’ll do it live” approach to governing. Since the 2014 election, when Democrats across the country ran from his agenda and lost anyway, the president has both embraced bold action and reaped the benefit of long-term policies. The stock market is at an all-time high,1 he has outperformed Reagan on job growth—or not, depending on whom you ask—and his approval rating now approaches that of Reagan in his sixth year. Ronald Reagan! The greatest president in American history, provided you pieced together American history from Sarah Palin speeches. But I presume conservatives will rally behind Obama now, since the indicators suggest they should.
I also presume that my aunt will grow wheels and become a wagon. Probably, the right will continue to excoriate Obama, partly because he is a center-left technocrat—the only thing contemporary conservatives hate more than a center-right technocrat—but mostly because he is the president.
Here’s a graph that shows Obama’s approval rating plummeting as a result of his taking office. It’s possible that Americans like Obama better lately because the economy is improving. Or we like him because we’re not stuck with him. Obama is the girlfriend America broke up with two girlfriends ago.2 He seems safely in the past, and now it is safe to remember him fondly.
Or, to put it less metaphorically: public opinion polls are dumb, because Americans are a bunch of shortsighted whiners. This past summer, a plurality of respondents determined that Obama was the worst president since World War II. Second-worst was George W. Bush, who was history’s greatest monster until February 2009, and third was Richard Nixon. The same poll found that the best president since WWII was Ronald Reagan, on whose approval rating Obama converged five months later.
My point is that we should ignore what the American people think. It should still be the basis for US government through electoral democracy, I guess, because all other known systems are worse. But the idea that a random sampling of respondents could offer a valuable assessment of how the president is doing encourages us to buy into meaningless information. You might as well ask your barber.