A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll got attention for its analysis of Barack Obama's huge popularity. But some very interesting other numbers slipped through the cracks. They point out the problems that Republicans face in their seemingly never-ending attempt to throw mud at President-elect Obama and shoot themselves in the foot..
Headlines explained that 73% of Americans approve how Mr. Obama is handling the transition, and that 67% felt "very or somewhat positive" about him.
Some Republicans, however, have tried to minimize this, dismissively contending that all new presidents have high numbers. There are two flaws with this position. The first is that Barack Obama isn't even president yet. The second is that the poll shows that while presidents do start with positive approvals, they are not generally at the elevated levels Mr. Obama has already reached.
This is where some of those under-reported figures start to come into play.
The especially-high opinion of Barack Obama has little to do with any traditional honeymoon period. Since the election, yes, 38% say their opinion of Mr. Obama has become more favorable. However, prior to Bill Clinton's swearing-in in 1992, that number was just 28%. (No comparison was available for George Bush.)
Indeed, as the WSJ/NBC poll notes, the nation "is more unified around Mr. Obama than it was for either Bill Clinton in 1992 or George W. Bush in 2000." In fact, it's double. Polls showed that 52% believe the coming year will be one of national unity. Under George Bush, it was only 27%.
While 42% said that newly-elected Bill Clinton "had the right set of goals," it is 12 points higher for Barack Obama.
Another striking comparison is the public's reaction to Mr. Obama's appointments. Here, 67% of Americans are "generally pleased" with the president-elect's choices. Yet both George Bush and Bill Clinton in their first terms, the number was 13 points lower.
Americans believe Barack Obama's personal characteristics to be president are 17 points higher than when Bill Clinton first took office.
All these results show the problem with being unwilling to accept the result of national elections and continuing to sling mud. It's one thing to attack a politician on politics. Mention "George Bush," and Democrats will line up to criticize his policies on the economy, Iraq, global warming, torture, domestic spying, the environment, and more. With the Republicans and Barack Obama, however, they are just attempting empty smears that the public has repeatedly shown its disdainful lack of interest - whether that mud is Ayers, Wright, Blagojevich or birth certificates. What they miss is that this "honeymoon" popularity for Barack Obama is something that has existed for two years, and grown.
But there's something more to the point -
The nation has HUGE problems to resolve, and the American public vibrantly wants Barack Obama to succeed - as one hopes Republicans do, as well - because it understands that America cannot afford its downward spiral for another four years.
Simply put, Americans love to support their president.
Consider how George Bush squeaked by in his 2000 election, even losing the popular vote. Yet his approval instantly leaped to 90% after 9/11 - for no reason other than America faced a challenge. And America kept supporting him despite all logic. Only after his actions were clearly driving the nation seriously off-track (as three-quarters of the country now says), did his approval plummet to its current 25%.
So, if Republicans want to throw only pointless mud at the nation's incoming president in a time of grave problems, when the nation wants its leader to succeed, during his honeymoon, with his growing two-year popularity at an all-time high, they run a suicidal risk of making the hole they've already dug deeper.
It's inexplicable that, during economic crisis and two wars, Republicans seem to be blindly following Karl Rove (architect of their last two crushing defeats) into a bizarre effort to challenge the nomination of Eric Holder as Attorney General...all over the minutiae of a pardon. Forgetting that if anyone shouldn't draw attention to a questionable pardon, it's Karl Rove - and forgetting, also, the attention it brings to George Bush's criminally-politicized Justice Department - amid a Democratic-controlled Senate, this is the political equivalent of being on death row and using your last quarter to buy sparkly confetti rather than make a phone call to your attorney.
And this is where several of the other more buried poll questions come into play, that point to the depth of the problems Republicans face.
Republicans have long held to the one thin reed of hope by trumpeting how Congress's approval is even lower than George Bush's. (Boy, that's something to promote ...!) But this has always struck me as a fool's wish. What the country doesn't like about this Congress, I've suggested, is not "both parties," but that it can't act because Republicans keep blocking issues that can help the nation.
And the WSJ/NBC polls finally confirms that assumption.
It's true that only 21% approve of Congress, lower than George Bush. But - when asked about their reaction to the two political parties, the truth hits the surface:
Over half of America, 52%, has a "very or somewhat negative" view of the Republican Party. Worse, and shockingly, only 7% of Americans feel "very positive" about the Republican Party! (This is exactly the same as Rod Blagojevich's approval rating. Honest.)
On the other hand, only 28% feel "very or somewhat negative" towards Democrats. And 49%, have a "very or somewhat positive" view.
If Republicans wish to believe that Americans dislike Congress merely because it is Congress, they are seriously mistaken. If Republicans wish to believe that we live in a center-right nation, they are seriously mistaken. And people who live a life seriously mistaken can only continue to drive in the wrong direction. It is only when you have a clear view of who you are - and acknowledge your problems - that you can correct your problems.
Case in point.
Many far-right conservatives like to hold out the mantra that Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican Party.
The WSJ/NBC poll shows that only 32% of Americans have a "very or somewhat positive" view of George Bush. This is a man so wildly unpopular that his own party avoided even mentioning him during the campaign. That's 32%. For Sarah Palin - the number is 35%.
If you keep ignoring reality, that's the dismal "future" you head towards.
One final, buried number in the poll. For all the effort Republicans made trying to smear Michelle Obama as not being proud of America, the poll asked if Michelle Obama was a good role model.
The public said, "Yes," - 69% to 16%.
This is what happens to Republicans when your party doesn't live in that pesky Reality-based world. This is what happens when all you have to throw is emptiness. America has real problems to deal with. Americans want serious answers.
And Americans have loudly explained the direction they want to go.