Even given the fact that most presidents are given a honeymoon of 100 days, Barack Obama's popularity is ridiculous. Yes, he is technically the "most partisan" of recent presidents because so few Republicans approve of his policies. But the flip side of that is that -- even after the election -- states are seeing fewer Americans self-identifying as Republicans.
For a president who has shifted politics in as opposite a manner as any in nearly three decades, this sort of popularity is peculiar. Which is why one suspects that it has as much to do with Obama -- and his family -- as it does with his actual decisions. Barack Obama might exactly be the bipartisan -- or post-partisan -- figure that he campaigned as. But it seems pretty clear that he is indeed the transformative figure that many believed he might be.
It's too soon to say whether he will be transformative politically -- that's something to guage in the 2010 and 2012 elections -- but he is already transformative culturally. Who else could inspire an otherwise conservative (not in the political sense) local lifestyle magazine like Washingtonian to run a (slightly-altered) photo of the shirtless president of the United Stateson its cover?
The magazine is being called "unethical" because the picture was doctored, but it's not exactly like the picture is like Time's infamous O.J. cover. This is something of a risky move: some people might believe that such a picture shows disrespect for the institution of the presidency. But bet instead that it will turn out to be one of the best-selling issues in the mag's recent history.
The Obamas are not just a political family, they are a cultural force. During the campaign, that was seen in how many copies of magazines that were sold when the candidate appeared on the cover. That extended shortly after the election to fashion being impacted when Michelle Obama wore certain designers. On Inauguration Day, J. Crew gave hosannas to the First Family when Sasha and Malia wore that brand.
But, it is now seen in the fact that the country's right track/wrong track has gone positive for the first time in five years. Why would that happen when the country is still mired in a recession that is going on 18 months? Even if Americans don't blame Obama, why would they still believe that his decisions have caused the US to go in the right direction all of a sudden?
Conservatives can blame the media for not reporting "the truth" about Obama, if they want. But, even allowing for some amount of bias, in the current diffused media environment, it's impossible for the mainstream media to have such power that it would cause people who are either unemployed (or have family or friends who are), to nonetheless believe that the country is beginning to move in a positive direction.
The only reason for that can be that the multitude of cultural signifies present in the Obamas -- racial, immigrant, youthful, multi-generational (with the mother-in-law living with them), inclusive -- is helping the country to feel optimistic at a moment when it would normally feel just the opposite. That belief in the cultural change represented by Barack Obama is bringing the country along behind their young president -- even if his specific decisions give them pause.
This mini "era of good-feeling" won't last forever. But it sure is interesting to observe while it lasts.