The Infatuation Effect (July 17, 2010)

obama tired

Rasmussen Reports’ Daily Presidential Tracking Poll puts President Obama’s approval rating for today at an anemic 28%. This figure is released at the end of a good week, by comparison. A huge piece of popular legislation was made reality (financial reform), and the oil spill in the Gulf has been at least temporarily capped.

But here’s a figure even more surprising: a Gallup poll released on Friday found that satisfaction with the direction of the country among members of the President’s own Democratic party has dropped by a fourth since last month. The Commander-in-Chief who has been the shepherd of more “change” than any President since FDR seems to find himself curious stymied by the bi-partisan impression that he can’t get anything done.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the topic of infatuation (as opposed to disinterested love) in her latest memoir, Committed, and says the following of the emotional phenomenon: “The problem with infatuation, of course, is that it’s a mirage, a trick of the eye…When you become infatuated with somebody, you’re not really looking at that person; you’re just captivated by your own reflection, intoxicated by a dream of completion that you have projected on a virtual stranger.”

Gilbert was of course, talking about the romantic politics between two individuals, but don’t these ideas offer an equally interesting explanation for the precipitous drop in popularity of “the One?” Surely Obama has always had his enemies, and there are many who have simply disliked the methods and proposals of the President without any strong emotional reaction. What I am speaking of here is the Gallup supported impression that Obama 2008’s most rabid fanatics are also turning from him in droves.

The truth is that infatuation is often closely followed by disillusionment, inspired by the despair in finding that the person you have built up as capable of making everything right, is after all, just another imperfect man. It was folly for any of us to expect a conversion from troubled, faltering nation to idealistic utopian Republic in under two years, and yet it becomes increasingly clear that is precisely what a large element of Obama Nation wanted.

I certainly have mixed feelings about the direction of the country, but I think it would be interesting if someone conducted a poll on what we think of ourselves. What do we think of our own handling of America’s downturn: our persistent reluctance as a voting public to get serious about clean energy, generating new State and Federal Revenues, reducing personal debt, investing in infrastructure? We want everything to get better in some vague, imperceptible way, but we are a people stubbornly resistant to innovation and investment in the 21st century. Isn’t a leader only as successful as the support he has under him? We want Obama to stop oil spills in the Gulf, but not by placing a moratorium on deep water drilling. We want better health care, but this should somehow happen by magic, within the system we have in place. We want an end to long, costly wars, but we want to be darned sure we are safe from another terrorist attack at the same time. Fear of the unknown apparently outweighs weariness with the known and ineffective.

Given the bi-polar, indecisive mindset of the American public, what do we expect Buff Bam, our once admired political Adonis to do? The gray hair, the lined and serious face of Obama in 2010 stands in contrast to the vigorous, cheerful candidate we voted for in late 2008. If infatuation is a captivation with our own reflection, what do we see now? Fatigue, frustration and confusion. Yeah – that’s us.

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