Barack Obama seems to be enjoying this late stage of his presidency.
As the heat turns up on the two people trying to succeed him, Obama is seizing the opportunity to play it cool. Perhaps the ugliness and trash-talk of the Clinton-Trump gutter fight just makes him look good by comparison but, whatever the reason, many Americans are starting to remember why they liked him enough to elect him in the first place.
His approval rating has been climbing steadily over the last 12 months and the people who think he has done a good job now outnumber those who think he didn’t. It’s a score most presidents would be happy to go out with; when George W. Bush left office his approval rating was 34%.
And Barack isn’t even the most popular Obama. First Lady Michelle had an approval rating of 64% in August, the latest figures available.
If her popularity follows the same trend as her husband’s, she will now be over the two-thirds-approve threshold. After all the allegations of groping, misogyny, extra-marital affairs, dodgy emails and corrupt payments to charitable foundations that have sullied the presidential candidates, the Obamas remain untainted.
They are seen as bringing a sense of decency and decorum to the White House, a moral compass to the sordid excesses of the campaign.
They are the couple to be seen with. Fortunately for Hillary Clinton, they have accepted to be seen with her. Hillary has a popularity problem: according to Real Clear Politics an average of 52.4% of Americans view her unfavourably. This is better than Donald Trump (59.1% unfavourable) but still, nothing to brag about.
Girls on tour
The outgoing President and First Lady have been campaigning actively for the Democrats. Michelle has joined up with Clinton on the campaign trail, becoming, says USA Today Clinton’s “secret weapon”. In fact, unusually at such events, at their joint rally in North Carolina Clinton spoke first and Obama second; Hillary was the warm-up act and Michelle the headliner.
As for the president, he has been very active venting his anger at Republicans in general for what he sees as their blocking tactics in Congress that have frustrated his initiatives. And boy, does he vent. In portraying Trump as a crazed monster created by a Republican Frankenstein, Obama speaks like a man released from a straight-jacket after six years. Angry, frustrated, exasperated. While his wife is busy helping Hillary’s ticket, Obama is fighting the battle for Congress, trying to win the seats in the Senate and House of Representatives that will give Hillary the control that he wishes he’d had for himself.
That Republicans are now even starting to put photos of Obama in their campaign literature and to try to associate with him is a sign that Obama has become cool again.
That he is addressing partisan Democrat crowds gives him the swagger of a stand-up comedian playing to ticket-buying fans. It’s Obama back to his oratorical best.