Steele: Cultural Charisma Sustains Obama Popularity

President Obama's poll numbers can be confusing - he maintains solid numbers for personal popularity even though Americans are unhappy with how he's doing in most areas polled. Nearly two and a half years into his presidency, you would expect voters to be holding the president responsible. Shelby Steele offers an explanation - the president's Cultural Charisma.

What gives Mr. Obama a cultural charisma that most Republicans cannot have? First, he represents a truly inspiring American exceptionalism: He is the first black in the entire history of Western civilization to lead a Western nation—and the most powerful nation in the world at that. And so not only is he the most powerful black man in recorded history, but he reached this apex only through the good offices of the great American democracy.

Thus his presidency flatters America to a degree that no white Republican can hope to compete with. He literally validates the American democratic experiment, if not the broader Enlightenment that gave birth to it.

How can the GOP combat the president's cultural charisma? It will have to make vivid the yawning gulf between Obama the flattering icon and Obama the confused and often overwhelmed president. Applaud the exceptionalism he represents, but deny him the right to ride on it as a kind of affirmative action.

It's a fascinating analysis that explains the gulf between the political realities that confront the country and the president's sustained popularity.