If you pay too much attention to opinion polls, doubtless you've heard a plurality of voters has judged Barack Obama the worst president since World War II. Thirty-three percent, to be precise, which as it conflates almost exactly with the number of hard-core Republicans, merely tells you something you already knew: GOP partisans dislike Obama with irrational zeal.
In short, the Quinnipiac University survey reveals more about them than about Obama. But hold that thought.
A presidential poll whose results might be worth heeding would measure the opinions only of people who could actually name the 12 U.S. presidents since 1945. I'm guessing that'd be maybe 10 percent of the electorate, tops.
Anyway, to put the bad news about Obama in perspective, back in 2006 when George W. Bush was in his sixth year in office, the same Quinnipiac poll found 34 percent of Americans judged him the worst since 1945.
Even the sainted Ronald Reagan's job approval numbers took a sharp drop during his sixth year due to the Iran-Contra scandal -- selling missiles to Iran to finance right-wing terrorists in Nicaragua.
This year, however, a reported 35 percent in the Quinnipiac survey judged Reagan the best president since World War II. Apparently all is forgiven, forgotten, or -- equally likely -- never known.
Of course Obama promised to transform America. Hence bitter disappointment on the sentimental left. Oh, you wanted single-payer health care? So tell me where Obama was supposed to get the votes.
However, the real believers in Barack the magic enchanter have been Republicans. His presidency has driven a substantial proportion of the GOP electorate completely around the bend. To a remarkable degree, the party of Lincoln has metamorphosed into a Confederate-accented political cult on apocalyptic themes suggested by fundamentalist theology.
"The unhinged versions of this sensibility," writes New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait, "held that Obama had launched a sinister ideological assault on the Constitution and American freedom, perhaps in the name of Islamism, or socialism, or somehow, both.
Mentioning Obama's race as one cause of GOP panic is even more forbidden than bringing up George W. Bush. You want to argue about it? Check the comment lines to any online article about Obama, and then get back to me.
It's in the Bible: "The guilty flee, where no man pursueth."
Along with existential panic goes an inability to keep things in proportion. Benghazi equals invading Iraq. The IRS "scandal" equals Watergate. Forty-five consecutive months of job growth and shrinking budget deficits get airbrushed out of the picture.
Over time, fear will abate. Then we'll see what we see.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.