Much thanks to Glenn Greenwald and Matt Yglesias for reminding us how useless polls are.
The poll in question, a survey conducted at the liberal Netroots Nation conference this past week, found the following:
27 percent strongly approving of Obama and 53 percent approving “somewhat.” Thirteen percent said they “somewhat disapprove,” and 7 percent strongly disapprove of the president.
Yglesias is smug:
[It's] a reminder that the proximate problem faced by would-be left-wing critics of President Obama is that they generally have much less credibility with the progressive constituency than the president does himself.
Greenwald is also smug:
[A] poll of hard-core Democrats that finds that only 27% “strongly approve” of their own Party’s president is hardly some sign that criticisms of him are unwelcome and lack credibility: quite the opposite. It’s hardly a surprise that when given a binary choice by Gallup of approve/disapprove, the vast majority of self-identified partisans (“Democrats”) will say they “approve” of their party’s President
And of course they’re both right. That poll can be read either way with equal facility. 80% approval of Obama among his base! Only 27% “strongly approve” of the President’s accomplishments, vs. some much higher percentage last year! And so forth.
Of the two, I find Yglesias’s side to be slightly more ridiculous. If Obama’s approval is as high as the polls paint it, then at whom is his argument addressed? Who is he trying to convince that Obama’s doing a great job, since 80% of the Ruling Party apparently already thinks so? The remaining 20%? Why bother? But of course, this shows the phoniness of the whole facade, like how we discovered the Meet The Press desk was particleboard once we got hi-def television.
The poll itself isn’t a fact until a member of the pundit class reports on it. 80% of the Ruling Party doesn’t approve of Obama until Yglesias reports on the survey that says 80% of the Ruling Party approves of Obama. That’s what makes it news. If 80% of the Ruling Party approved of Obama, there would be no need of a poll to tell them. You’d know it because four out of five of your friends just couldn’t shut up about what a great job Obama’s doing. And if you’re Matt Yglesias, that’s already true.
But don’t take this to mean that Greenwald’s argument isn’t also ridiculous! There are few popular pundits today more strident, consistent and incisive in their condemnation of the growing power of the American executive than Glenn Greenwald. He documents every day the tendency of power to protect and expand itself, regardless of who wields it.
So for Greenwald to point out 27% as if it’s a crack in the foundation is laughable. Only a quarter of a self-selected group of Ruling Party bloggers, themselves a self-selected group of college-educated liberals, approve of Obama. Oh no! What does he think Obama will do next? How will the man who ignores his own Attorney General react to this shifting in the ranks?
“There certainly are a lot of people,” says Greenwald, “who expend a lot of time and energy trying to prove that Obama’s left-wing critics represent only a tiny, fringe minority.” Glenn! You’re a tiny, fringe minority! So what? Were you the only man alive who thought that a President ordering the assassination of U.S. citizens was wrong, that would not make it less wrong. Why should the quantity of critics from within the Ruling Party matter at all?
Let me guess: because you still believe in the conceit of democracy. Because you believe that a different person in the Oval Office wouldn’t wage war, cater to special interests (but I repeat myself) and sell out his constituency. Because you believe that the process of forging oneself into an electable Presidential candidate doesn’t turn a normal human, modest in compassion and blessed with common sense, into a gargoyle through which the river of power flows.
Well, okay. Have fun with that battle.