Public, politicians, pundits differ on ‘leadership’

Public, politicians, pundits differ on 'leadership'
Public, politicians, pundits differ on 'leadership'

By late Sunday, the disconnect was striking. Diplomatic progress on the crisis in Syria seemed so encouraging – the Obama administration had secured unexpected victories without firing a shot – but the airwaves were filled with disappointed pundits and politicians, and the commentary out of the Beltway was dour. Don’t believe your lying eyes, the political establishment said, President Obama’s failures are only masquerading as successes.

The latest Pew Research Center poll, however, suggests the punditocracy has not yet persuaded the American mainstream.

Though widespread skepticism remains on whether the diplomatic course will succeed, by a better than two-to-one margin, Americans support the president’s decision to delay military strikes and pursue the diplomatic alternative. For all the complaints out of the Beltway about “weakness” – the establishment seems to think “strength” and “launching dangerous missile strikes” are synonymous – 67% of Americans endorse the White House’s current policy.

Also note how broad the consensus is on the policy – a majority of self-identified Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all agree on the merits of Obama’s approach.

What’s more, note this rebuke of the conventional wisdom: “Overall, more Americans (49%) say that in handling the situation in Syria, Obama has shown leadership and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Fewer (35%) say he’s shown weakness and inconsistency.”

It’s almost as if the American public refuses to believe what the Sunday shows and op-ed pages tell them to believe about military intervention in the Middle East.

This is obviously just one poll, of course, and other results will vary. In fact, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll was also released this morning, and the president fared far worse on questions of U.S. global leadership. That said, even here, a whopping 79% endorse the policy Obama is pursuing with regard to Syria.

This confirms the thesis that the public doesn’t much care about process; it cares about results. For the punditocracy, the fact that Obama was prepared to use military force, but switched gears when a diplomatic opportunity arose, is awful – what matters, the argument goes, is consistency, and presidents who threaten strikes must follow through, regardless of changing circumstances.

The public apparently doesn’t see it that way. In less than a week, the Obama administration pushed Syria into the chemical weapons convention, helped create a diplomatic framework that will hopefully rid Syria of its stockpiles, successfully pushed Russia into a commitment to help disarm its own ally, quickly won support from the United Nations and our allies, and did all of this without firing a shot.

The question isn’t why Americans are pleased; it’s why the punditocracy isn’t.

Update: The legend in the chart was accidentally flippped when originally published. It’s fixed now.