It’s amazing how things we say and do every day can be traced way back in our history. Some simple things like almost automatically saying “God bless you” when someone you don’t even know sneezes. That phrase goes back into the Middle Ages, when Christians in Europe developed the idea that sneezing allowed the Devil to enter your body.
Today it’s very rare for anyone to realize where that phrase came from or even more importantly when it came from. It’s simply an automatic response to early childhood training.
There are other things that we say and do, almost automatically, without any conscious thought that are rooted deep in history and deep in the cultural well of embedded folklore.
The reason that I mentioned this is that over the past 10 days to 3 weeks there have been literally dozens of articles regarding the election that have referenced the fact that polling indicated time and time again that Barack Obama had the highest popularity polls in his presidency now. Unfortunately even though it appeared that Barack Obama was “a popular president” he didn’t seem to have enough popularity to push Hillary over the finish line. For those of you who have been living under a rock for 10 days, Hillary lost. So where was President Obama’s “mojo” when it was needed most by his political party.
Thinking about it, I wondered why after so many sequential failures during his presidency, why Hillary’s promises to continue his policies in her presidency (if she actually got elected) were found less than exciting among voters, and why both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were classed as nearly a dead tie for being “the least popular” candidate in history.
We should remember in thinking about why Obama seems to be so “popular” at this point in his presidency that Barack Hussein Obama at this point in his presidency is (to use the popular political shorthand) a lame-duck.
A phrase like lame-duck, is more fully understood (just as “God bless you”) by putting in the context of what it meant as well as when it was said. Wikipedia has provided an answer to both issues, the what and the when:
The phrase “lame duck” was coined in the eighteenth century at the London Stock Exchange, to refer to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts. The first known mention of the term in writing was made by Horace Walpole, from a letter in 1761 to Sir Horace Mann: “Do you know what a Bull and a Bear and Lame Duck are?” In 1791 Mary Berry wrote of the Duchess of Devonshire‘s loss of £50,000 in stocks, “the conversation of the town” that her name was to be “posted up as a lame duck”. In the literal sense, it refers to a duck which is unable to keep up with its flock, making it a target for predators.
It was transferred to politicians in the nineteenth century, the first recorded use being in the Congressional Globe (the official record of the United States Congress) of January 14, 1863: “In no event … could [the Court of Claims] be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians.”
A duck…unable to keep up with its flock, making it a target for predators. Which leads one to another commonly used phrase “dead Man walking”.
Well, President Obama certainly qualifies as a “lame duck” or the its paraphrase of “dead man walking”.
This is where president Obama should express his gratitude to Chilon of Sparta, who among his various accomplishments was a legislator for the Spartan assembly and a counselor for the King of Sparta in the middle of the 6th century B.C.
Chilon is credited with numerous expressions that resemble Proverbs in their structure and purpose, for example:
- “Do not laugh at a person in misfortune.”
- “If one is strong be also merciful, so that one’s neighbors may respect one rather than fear one.”
- “Learn how to regulate one’s own house well.”
Most of them seem to be common sense but one calls out loudly to explain why Obama’s poll numbers became so favorable recently. The phrase is “Do not speak evil of the dead.”
Variations of that phrase are used today, every day, when someone dies. It may not be used solely when someone dies, but it could be used equally if one was speaking about a coworker who is about to lose their job because of corporate resizing. No one wants to say, “Well he got canned because he was an idiot.” As Chilon decreed, “Do not speak evil of the dead (or someone who just lost their job)”.
Barack Obama, as we discovered looking at the term “lame-duck” is in a situation similar to the phrase “dead man walking”. Because of that, it is very conceivable that Mr. Obama was granted a professional eulogy when many of those who responded to the soon to be ex-president poll must have thought “He’s not long for this (political) world. No need to kick him while he’s down.”
I think that this covers at least one possible (and more likely, probable) explanation of how a sitting president could show improvements in his approval rating, but not have the personal power or charisma to anoint his successor.