Melissa Harris-Perry says that whatever complaints progressives may have against Barack Obama, he’s certainly not a less progressive president than Bill Clinton. And yet Obama is less popular than Clinton, a situation she attributes to racial bias:
President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans — from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.
I really don’t think that’s right. The salient difference between Clinton and Obama is that the economy did much better under Bill Clinton:
I think the economy doubly matters for presidential evaluation. It matters in the first instance because low information swing voters heavily weight short-term economic performance when evaluating presidents. But in matters in the second instance because high information elites heavily weight political success when evaluating presidents. Committed political activists with firm policy convictions understand perfectly well that no politician is going to consistently “do the right thing.” But political compromises are much easier to swallow when they seem to be working. Consequently, even the people who don’t evaluate presidents based on short-term economic performance are in effect evaluating presidents based on short-term economic performance.