The wacky world of political popularity.

17 04 2008

It’s something that has always fascinated me. Why we find some politicians popular, some not. My lifetime started during the Eisenhower administration, with my earliest memory of a president being Kennedy. I remember liking Kennedy, even though I don’t remember whether or not my parents did. I remember, also at that time, that the elementary school I went to had a mock election. I can’t remember our elementary school having a mock election since. Perhaps times were different then…or not? Does it seem that politics now is much more a popularity contest? Or maybe it’s not what you do, but how you do it?


If memory serves Kennedy was popular with the very rich, and the poor, splitting the rest pretty much down the middle. His administration was dominated by the Red Menace, and didn’t really accomplish a whole lot. Though his famous quote was  “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” he’s most fondly remembered by a segment of our society that didn’t want to do much of anything for the country but asked the country to do almost everything for it. Kennedy is still hugely popular today, pretty much due to his looks and lifestyle and untimely death by assassination and not any great accomplishment, other than his handling of the Cuban missile crises. Despite getting us into Vietnam, and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, his image is almost untarishable, “Happy birthday mister President…”. ‘Camelot’. What he did do is inspire us. We the people may have been greatly cheated by his death.


Lyndon Johnson. Ignored, overlooked, pitied, and even despised. Poured our troops into Vietnam. Tried to run the war from the White House, setting the whole thing up for failure, and had to bail out of the job. Johnson did more to elevate civil rights then Kennedy ever dreamed of but Kennedy somehow got the credit. At the same time his hand up was also a trap for many, addicting them to a life of living on the dole. It would have been so easy back then for his ‘Great Society’ to have really created a great society, but it ended up as being really just a political patronage program, binding a large segment of the country with welfare and food stamps and no jobs to go along with them.  A bondage of a different sort. His administration ended with riots in the streets and Watts a smoldering ruin. It was a time of protest and political unrest. A nightmare time that somehow left Johnson fondly remembered by many.


Richard Nixon was hated by many. Not disliked, HATED. He is thought of by a large segment of our country as the worst single President ever. You even see it in the press, often listing him as the worst of the worst. His only accomplishment in office was ending the war in Vietnam and returning our troops and POW’s home like he said he would. And opening a dialogue with China. The SALT treaty, reducing nuclear missiles. Starting a dialogue of détente with Russia which was really the beginning of the end of the spread of communism. Formalizing civil rights and stabilizing our economy. And returning peace to our campuses and streets.  But somebody that worked for somebody that somehow worked for somebody that worked in some periphery position for him did something very wrong, like getting caught breaking into his oppositions campaign headquarters trying to get information that would help him win an election that he won in a landslide anyway, and he supposedly tried to ‘cover up’ his involvement in something that he wasn’t involved with anyway and….so we hate him. For that, and 55MPH speed limits.


Gerald Ford is loved by some, hated by others, and “oh yes, I remember him…” by many. Best or worst remembered for pardoning Nixon, for better or worst getting us as a country beyond Watergate. That, or for falling down a lot. He was without a doubt honorable. He was well liked and respected by his peers,  perhaps truly the right man at the right time, a good caretaker of the office until the next election. Really didn’t ‘do’ anything, which was most appreciated. Some girl named ‘Squeaky’ tried to shoot him. Another one did, too.


Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter was perhaps the nicest man ever elected to the office of President. He crashed our economy, bringing us some of the highest unemployment rates this side of the great depression. Interest rates climbed to unheard of heights, with prime rates into the twenty plus percent range. Inflation soared.  He mishandled relations with the Middle East causing  oil shortages, long lines, and high gas prices, and hatred and hostage taking  in Iran. He is literally loved by the people that were hurt the worst by his administration. He wanted so much for us but delivered so little. He was as honest as the day is long. He prayed and no-one complained about it. He told us he lusted in his heart, and we knew, cause we did too.



Ronald Reagan entered office with enough force of authority that the country of Iran immediately caved and sent our people home. He restructured and rebuilt our economy with a “trickle down theory” and “Voodoo” economics (both just basic economics). He elevated minorities and women into real and authoritative positions within our government. He decreased taxes. He broadened the Civil Rights Act to cover  the whole country instead of just the south as it originally was. He rebuilt a military that was virtually gutted by the Carter administration. The rich got richer. The poor got richer too. His ability and vision created economic growth which allowed the largest percentage of movement of the poor and minorities into the middle classes then ever, before or since. He won reelection by he largest landslide ever. He was the first to recognize and address the future problem with Social Security. He spent huge amounts of money to fix the problems of the past, spending  us into huge deficits. Still, the economy soared. He is literally hated by those he helped the most. Criticized by a press he supported. Vilified by a Hollywood of which he was a part. Despised by unions, even though he was a member of, and even President of, a union. Hated by feminists, even though  he did much to elevate them in rights and position. Despised by Blacks, even though they gained more socially and economically from his administration than perhaps any other. “Tear down this wall!” and they did. He, almost single-handedly  took away the threat of nuclear obliteration and caused the downfall of the “Evil Empire” of communism. When he left office the United States of America held a prestige throughout the world unmatched since the end of World War Two. He’s disdainfully remembered by many people and the press as an elitist and bigot.


George H. W. Bush. When he ran against Reagan he accused him of practicing “Voodoo Economics”. When the republican party chose Reagan as its nominee Bush thought maybe his future in politics was over. He did what a lot of us do when we suffer rejection, consoled himself with a beer. But Ronald Reagan showed him what a real man is. When Reagan could have cast aside his opponent and gone to his political allies he didn’t. He reached out to him, asking Bush to join him as his running mate. Believe it or not that was a stunning move at that time. When Bush became President he tried to continue his predecessors legacy.  The economy was flourishing. It was so good in fact that the democrats talked him into a “painless” increase in the Capitol Gains Tax. Investment in construction immediately halted. Thousands of projects and properties went unfinished and abandoned. Construction workers by the droves were laid off. The Savings and Loan  industry was  literally demolished. Having flourished under the previous administration, and with money flowing like wine and water, many of those in charge were caught living too high on the hog when the crash came.  He was distracted from these problems by an arrogant Iraqi dictator that thought he could take advantage of  the situation and invade his neighbor. Bush used  great skill in forming a coalition of many countries to push back this belligerent tyrant and free the country of Kuwait. But he let the tyrant off the hook, after all, it was “the economy stupid”. Even thought he put back into place the disheveled  economy that was strong and growing when he left office, it cost him re-election. He’s mostly remembered for being a nice guy with a nice wife (who, by the way, was a civil rights worker) who skillfully led us in the Gulf War. Disliked by that segment of society that dislikes republicans in general.


Bill Clinton. Smart. Smart enough not to change the way Bush was handling the economy, even though it was the economy that caused Bush to lose to him. His first few years in office he was accused of being more republican than the republicans on economic issues.  He modeled himself after his hero, JFK. As a Governor he was a complete failure in his first term and drummed out of office. Unbelievably, he went on television and apologized to the people of the great state of Arkansas and… was reelected! Everyone should have understood then just how smooth a talker he was.  His wife outclassed him socially, economically, and educationally. She was the rock he built his political career on. He cheated on her and she stood by him emphatically. When he became President he used wit, style, and a little bit of arrogance and created an almost unmatched power base.  He neither helped nor hurt the country very much, but depending on which side you where on, you’d swore he did. Glorified by a rich elite, he attacked the wealthy.  He dismantled the welfare state, yet still was a delight to those to who it catered. Hated by those that saw him as the Devil in disguise. He taught us all what doublespeak was. He bestowed the term “politically correct” upon us.  He showed us that what you said didn’t have to mean what you really said but what you wanted it to mean to whichever group your focus was on at the time. That “it” didn’t have to actually mean “IT”. IT could be whatever you wanted IT to be, it could. He led by polling. He smiled and we bought it. One can only imagine what the feminist movement and NOW would have said if the Monica deal had happened with a republican. Any republican. Or just about any CEO of any corporation … Heads have rolled for a lot less.


He looked us in the eye and said it never happened. His wife said it was a vast right wing conspiracy. He shuffled his feet, bowed his head and admitted it was true. And that it wasn’t the first time. We said okay. All was forgiven. He felt our pain. His administration was the first to speak out and act against filth in the music industry and was the first to try to censor it. Yet, you probably couldn’t find a rapper anywhere that wouldn’t vote for him tomorrow. Sadly, his last few years in office he gave into a lot of the special interest groups, increasing taxes and diverting money into “causes”. The economy started to suffer, especially in the areas of employment and investment. Overall, he left the countries economy fairly stagnate, but in pretty good shape, having early on joined with the republicans and led in reducing , then abolishing, the deficits.


George W. Bush rode into office having just barely survived one of the closest elections in years. He arrived however,  with one of the most ambitious  social and economic plans ever. Plans to elevate the educational level of every child in America. Plans to reform a broken Social Security System. Plans to create jobs, both here in America, and overseas, where vast sums had been spent on foreign aid. A plan to fight the AIDS epidemic, not just here but world wide. Plans to end poverty, fight crime, fix a broken healthcare system and reform an out of control tort system. He had big plans, and big surpluses to spend! Good times!. What he didn’t have planned was 9-11. Plans changed. Priorities changed. Although he got a good head start with tax reform and his No Child Left Behind Act, other aspects of his goals for us changed, or at least got shoved aside. We stood behind him as he led us well during those dark days, and we thanked the Lord it was him and not the other guy that we elected.


The world can turn oh so quickly however. It wasn’t long before his distracters pointed out to us that it was 7 whole minutes after he found out about the World Trade Center before he left that classroom full of kids. No matter that it took that long for the Secret Service to determine that it was safe to move and where to go.  7 whole minutes that I guess they say were wasted, somehow. Somehow it pointed to indecisiveness, they said.


When the African embassies where bombed by al Qaida during the Clinton administration, Clinton responded by somewhat blindly sending a few cruise missiles into a closed terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. Bill Clinton knew full well the threat of Osama Bin Laden. Our intelligence agencies had developed a lot of info on him and al Qaida. One country even tried to turn him over to us, but Clinton passed. Also during the Clinton administration we fought a running verbal battle with Saddam Hussein. We didn’t just think he had weapons of mass destruction, we KNEW he did. Bill Clinton kept the heat on him and the U.N. kept its inspectors busy looking. Iraq kept up a cat and mouse game of blocking inspections, then allowing the inspectors in, only to find empty buildings. How do we know Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Because we monitored the destruction of a great many of them. Trouble was, not all that we knew they had  was there record of there destruction. They claimed shoddy record keeping. This from a country however that kept meticulous records on any and everything, no matter how minute or trivial. Clinton didn’t buy it then, and Bush didn’t buy it either. Fact is, the whole world didn’t buy it. The question was, just how long should we allow the inspectors to keep looking. We never found those weapons of mass destruction, so, it became Bush’s “lie”. Even though almost all of the intelligence was gathered during the previous Clinton administration it became Bush’s fault. They like to say “lie”.


We accused Bush of not doing enough to uncover the 9-ll plot before it happened. Now that he’s put into place systems that would have perhaps uncovered the plot we cry foul. He’s treading on our “rights”.  We accused his father of not completing the task by removing Saddam during the first Gulf War, then blame the son for removing him now.  We cry to pull out now, before the job is done, though  we know full well that only chaos  would ensue.  That, and the loss of any credibility we have as a leader and power in the world. There are those that say we only went there because of the oil, when we could have had the oil simply by ending the sanctions. 


Politics does create strange bedfellows. There are those that would have us believe that a man who went to Yale and graduated from Harvard with a rather hefty degree is somehow a stupid oaf.  Most of those that call him stupid couldn’t come close to getting into Yale, much less Harvard. The last election pitted one Yale alumnus against another. Both where ‘bonesmen’, both having been inducted into a secret society that only chooses the very cream of the crop for membership. Both served this country admirably during a highly unpopular war. Kerry chose his branch of service as a badge of honor, emulating Kennedy, but knowing full well at the time that the coastal patrol was seldom put in harms way.  Bush chose the Air Guard because it was an easier way of getting to be a fighter pilot, his dad having been a pilot during WWII. At the time he joined they pulled Guardsmen to active duty regularly. Both, however, were unarguably legitimate services to our country. The only confusion came from those with a motive. Some folks profit from such confusion. (By the way, they don’t let stupid people become fighter pilots)


If you go by modern thought on such matters George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton should be mortal enemies. Somehow they’re able to work hand in hand for the good of the country. No, for the good of the world. Perhaps, they somehow know something we don’t. Or, at least something we’re not supposed to. Like how hot the air really is in Washington, maybe?


One of those things that is often overlooked by we the people about the Bush family is their philosophy regarding life and service to their country. Contrary to the standard of most politicians, they are taught to go out into the world and make a mark. Make some money. Then devote the rest of there lives to public service. George W. took his business degree and went out and made his own money. Nothing but advice came from his father, just as George senior took nothing but advice from his. Both were highly successful before going into politics. We tell ourselves that that’s the way it should supposed to be, but somehow we ignore or overlook it when we talk about them, thinking somehow they didn’t earn what they’ve become.


Bush’s administration suffered a huge blow on 9-11. The economy crashed, taking  industries and stocks down with the twin towers.  The war on terrorism has cost a fortune. It’s created huge deficits. It ended the plans Bush had to use those surpluses he inherited. The money was spent to protect us, yet we fault him for spending it, all the while still demanding protection. Katrina blew away what was left along with the Gulf Coast. Bush was blamed, as if manipulating the weather was a Presidential purgative. The levee’s failed in New Orleans. The haters even said that Bush had them dynamited. Blame was tossed everywhere.  But it all really had to be Bush’s fault, they said. But, even with all of the above, our economy soars. Bush’s economic policies work! Stocks soar. Growth is at extremely high levels. Unemployment is less than ever, almost a whole percentage point below what is considered full employment. Inflation is almost negligible. Yet, Bush’s approval rating for handling the economy: only about 36 percent. That can only be described as baffling. Either that, or the public is being conned by those that oppose him. And don’t think that there aren’t those that oppose him in places that can do just that. Bush has never been a darling of the press.


They call him a liar, yet can’t point to a single example that can’t be immediately shot down. They say he is racist, even though he began his administration with dreams of elevating minorities threw educational opportunities and real fixes to societies problems; appointing minorities and women to more and loftier positions than any other President. He is supposedly extremely right wing but constantly does things that seem to disappoint the extreme right. They told us his tax cuts where supposedly only to help his rich friends, but somehow they created  growth and jobs by the score, just like he said they would. He promised to keep us safe from attack here at home, but we attack him for it. He has enough guts to take the heat for an unpopular war, knowing just how necessary it is to stick it out. He stays true to his convictions, but we aren’t used to politicians who won’t change their mind with the wind, so we call him stubborn. He told us in the beginning that the fight against terrorism would be long and hard, taking years and years to win. He told us at the start that many people might die in the cause. We wonder why he hasn’t been able to finish it by now. He asks God for advice, and we criticize him as a zealot. And just when we think we know him, he goes and does what he said he was going to do, and we are left shocked. Politicians aren’t supposed to act that way.  They’re supposed to care about their  legacy and image and poll numbers and such, aren’t they? 






One response

20 01 2009
Political Popularity « Big Al’s Dismal Swamp

[…] The wacky world of political popularity. […]

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