Can Obama win the election? Yes, he can. Maybe.
Barack Obama was always going to have a tough presidency. He set the bar so high for himself during the arduous two year lead-up to his election that he was always at risk of sailing right under it when it came time to start enacting the “Change we can believe in”.
Indeed, back in 2008 there were times when it seemed his strategists took their cues from Napoleon Dynamite’s Pedro, as he essentially promised the electorate: “vote for me and all your wildest dreams will come true”.
In the nearly three years since he took office, he has made some important steps – passing a (slightly watered-down) health care package, most notably – but so many of his promises have gone unfulfilled and, although it pains me deeply to say it, his presidency thus far has been a bit of a wet firecracker.
The “wild” dreams – even those hopeful onlookers like me – are now just mostly-fading ones, and the Barack Obama we see now in the White House is not the Barack Obama that we saw campaigning with such optimism and positivity throughout 2008.
Obama always wanted to follow the lead of his idol Abraham Lincoln by assembling a “team of rivals” in his White House, to harness their respective talents, and hopefully heal some of the partisan divides that have deepened in recent years. Asking Hillary Clinton, the woman against whom he had to fight as much as John McCain for the presidency, to be the Secretary of State is a good example of that. As is the fact he retained Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense in order to provide some level of continuity for the military during a time of war.
The real problem, however, is that most of his “team of rivals” are just the ‘old guard’ in drag.
The appointment of Tim Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury (and who was previously an Undersecretary in the same organisation during the late 1990s), and Larry Summers as Director of the National Economic Council, highlight that, in crucial areas, a great number of his team were just recycled from the Clinton administration.
They’re the same, tired faces that Washington needed to be rid of if real change was ever going to happen.
Indeed, as I have said before here on The Punch, much of the momentum behind the Occupy Wall Street protests came from the frustration that many ordinary Americans feel at his lack of reform in the financial sector, which has gone rogue over the past 30 years due to very weak regulation (blame this guy) and a criminal lack of oversight .
Many of Obama’s other big campaign promises seem to have been ignored, forgotten, or sanded back to a smoother, more ‘crowd-friendly’ finish, frustrating his liberal supporters no end. Then again, he probably never counted on having such fierce opposition to his presidency either.
He was not to know that he would face a Republican party that, no matter how middle-of-the-road his policies, would continue to brandish him as a socialist, and, therefore, some sort of danger to America.
They have set about trashing and disrupting his presidency in a way that makes Tony Abbott look like a true bipartisan, cross-aisle moderate by comparison.
They basically all want him (and too, their country) to fail just to serve as a warning to anyone who might dare think about electing a slightly radical Democrat as President ever again. To quote one Republican (who also noted on Twitter that assassinating Obama is “tempting”), “We need him to go down in history as the WORST president we’ve EVER had!”.
Obama could also never have forseen the rise of the Tea Party movement who, thanks to insane (and insanely popular) loudmouths like Glenn Beck, think it is their patriotic duty to rise up and engage in an armed resistance to the President’s fascist socialism (meanwhile not realising what either of those two terms actually mean).
In return, Obama seems to have tried his very best to diffuse their (highly irrational) fears by watering down his reformist tendencies. The problem now is that they’re so diluted that those who voted for him in 2008 now wonder why they ever did.
There are just over 300 days until the election, and Barack Obama is not going to be able to dramatically turn around his now fairly well-defined image in that short space of time.
To give himself a serious chance of winning in November, however, he’s going to have to focus on a couple of very large reforms in the coming months.
The first is to the economy. He needs to dispel once-and-for-all the lingering myth of Voodoo Economics that not taxing the rich is the path to national prosperity, and bring Wall Street back into line. Luckily, he has already started making movements in that direction. Better late than never, I say.
The second change must be to the political system itself, and new rules of transparency. Washington has become so deeply corrupted by money and corporate power over the past 30 years, that it could become the jewel in the crown of his presidency.
On this front, he could easily wedge his opponents by trotting out the old “sunlight is the best disinfectant” phrase, which is very hard to argue against. At the very least it would be fun to see Republicans like Mitt “corporations are people” Romney convince American voters that more accountability and more openness is a bad idea.
Electing the first non-white president always came with the expectation of serious change. But what Barack Obama needs now is courage: the courage to be the President the American people elected.
If he can’t do that, the first term of his administration might just be the last.
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