This morning I ran across an article "The Best Worst President Ever" by Mark Morford in SF Gate. Morford observes a wealthy beneficiary of the economy under Obama proclaim Obama the "worst president ever." Morford then proceeds to give a litany of economic facts that provide ample evidence that this wealthy individual is almost certainly benefiting greatly from the economy during Obama's presidency. In the end Morford just laughs, and shakes his head at the "bizarre lament" of these crazy rich bastards. His only explanation is simple racism - rich white guys can't stand it that a black guy could actually run the country, so they'll simply deny that he has done so.
I think that Morford and almost all the other defenders of the Obama presidency are missing something truly important, something that the wealthy feel in their bones, even though few of them can allow themselves to recognize it consciously. There has been a seismic shift in this country during the Obama presidency, one that has nothing at all to do with Obama's actions as president, but everything to do with what a black man in office means to American people. It is not what Obama has done, but what Obama has inspired (including fear) that makes him "the worst president ever."
The seismic shift to which I refer is the cosmic decline in the legitimacy of the existing American social system, in all its economic, political and social dimensions, in the minds of Americans. The fact of an Obama presidency, the presidency of a Harvard educated, progressive black man of mixed racial and cultural heritage is the catalyst that turned the already existing cultural divergence of America into a chasm of Grand Canyon proportions. It is not about what Obama has done or will do, it is all about who he is and what he represents to the various factions in America.
Obama of course represents quite different things to those on the left and those on the right. For those on the left, Obama's presidency offers hope (yes that "hopey changy thing") that real change and reform can happen. If a black man can get elected in America, than perhaps real, progressive economic reforms are possible too. By raising expectations, Obama's presidency undermines the legitimacy of a Congress stalled in the morass of partisan bickering, and of a corrupt and massively unequal economy. Decades ago historical research on revolutions suggested that the greatest danger for revolt occurred not when conditions were the worst in a society, but when small improvements gave people hope, but change did not come quickly enough to satisfy those hopes.
Obama's presidency has done something that nothing before has been able to do: the fact of a black man in the highest office in the land has led masses of ordinary conservatives to question the legitimacy of government and law enforcement. Suddenly "law and order" conservatives are on the side of armed vigilantes protecting a law-breaking rancher (Bundy) in Nevada, who casually aim weapons at local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
The most class conscious, educated members of the rich are fully aware of the disintegrating legitimacy of capitalism and the vastly unequal distribution of wealth and income in this country. A tiny handful of these economic elite think that it is possible to re-establish legitimacy as was done during the Great Depression by Roosevelt. Warren Buffet speaks openly and often about the need to reform the tax system to address rising inequality. Bill and Melinda Gates focus on pouring their wealth into reforming education with a goal of reducing inequality. Far more common however, is the headlong rush to accumulate more and more, claiming the moral superiority of capitalism (or getting toadying academic economists to do it for them), and blaming Obama for the rising numbers of Americans who seriously question the both legitimacy of extreme inequality and capitalism.
Their hatred of Obama is based not on anything that he as actually done to effect inequality, because in point of fact, Obama's actual policies and actions have fueled the growth of wealth and inequality. Rather it is based on the fact that an Obama presidency has fueled more and more open disaffection with the existing order of things, and shaken the legitimacy of both government and economy. Their hatred is greater because they have more to lose.