Take a look at the wording of this WaPo headline:
“Obama Suffers Most From Year of Turmoil, Poll Finds.”
Accompanying it is this photo:
The article goes on to describe the precipitous decline in Obama’s standing in approval polls:
His position is all the more striking when compared with his standing a year ago, as he was preparing for his second inauguration after a solid reelection victory. That high note proved fleeting as the president faced a series of setbacks, culminating in the botched rollout of his Affordable Care Act two months ago.
Some may think reporters and editors are simply clumsy or indifferent writers, and sometimes they are. But much of the time they choose their words (and photos) with exquisite and subtle care. They also realize that most people only look at the headlines and photos of most articles, and that those are therefore the most important elements, and that even people who do read the article often read only the first few paragraphs.
In thisWaPo article, the headline and photo have been chosen to suggest that Obama is a suffering victim—in fact, the greatest victim—of a series of unfortunate circumstances that have befallen him. He’s nearly a martyr. And the text (the excerpt quoted above is the second paragraph in the piece) reinforces that idea by this phrase, “faced a series of setbacks.” Passive voice; no actor.
The article’s only mention of culpability occurred in the third paragraph, and it’s a curious one:
…[I]t is the president who has suffered the most damage from his administration’s self-inflicted wounds and a year of partisan conflict that included a partial shutdown of the government.
Again, we have the president as sufferer, and even though here (finally!) the wounds are “self-inflicted.” But it is the administration rather than the president himself that is doing the damage. Note, also, that this observation is followed in the same sentence by a balancing reference to the government shutdown, which didn’t hurt Obama at all and was widely blamed on the Republicans.
All in all, a masterpiece of subtly crafted writing designed to effect a certain perception: that of a beleaguered president who is the suffering victim.
Now to the poll itself. In some ways it is encouraging—because it indicates, as do other recent polls, that people are not liking Obamacare and are not as positive about Obama or Democrats in general as they were just a short while ago. But certain of its findings are mind-bogglingly discouraging. An example of the latter is the following:
The president is back in positive territory, however marginally, on two important attributes — whether he understands the problems of everyday Americans and whether he is honest and trustworthy. At the worst of the health-care mess, bare majorities said no to both questions. Today bare majorities say yes.
Obama has recovered some credibility? Why? There’s also this, “A 26-point Obama advantage a year ago on who would better protect the middle class has fallen to just six points in the latest survey.”
It’s good that it’s fallen. But why does he still have any advantage at all?
I know the answer to that question, or at least I think I know it: Republicans are strongly and widely perceived as only caring about the rich. It seems it would take a much more powerful demonstration of real-world negative consequences for the middle class that is unequivocally and unmistakably linked to Obama’s policies, and of real-world positive consequences for the middle class that is unequivocally and unmistakably linked to Republicans’ policies, to make a sizable dent in these entrenched perceptions.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]