Thursday, September 15, 2011

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Nearly three years ago, Barack Obama rode a wave of massive popularity all the way into the White House. The movement grew and swelled with every passing day, inspiring ordinary Americans to become enthusiastic and involved with politics again. The excitement of those days has now been replaced by the dazed look I see on the faces of so many people. It seems incomprehensible to see how far his star has fallen since then. The memories of earlier times have until recently been strong enough to keep the bottom from falling out as regards his popularity and legislative agenda. But so long as economic woes persist, Obama's approval rating has nowhere to go but down. This may have been a problem he inherited, but he was elected in part to fix it.

If Barack Obama should only serve one term, I am fairly certain that historians will deem him only an average President. He will likely be remembered most for running a superb campaign and passing Health Care legislation. Following that, he will receive credit for presiding over the killing of Osama Bin Laden. But his glaring ineffectiveness and puzzling decision-making will win him consistently low marks, especially after he set the bar up to the stratosphere and then acted like a flawed mortal for four years solid. We are still coming to terms with deep disappointment. What we thought we were receiving has failed to materialize. I myself never thought I’d need to hold my nose while marking an X next to the name “Obama” on my ballot.

The purveyors of truth and news also seem to be unsure of how to take this recent development. Obama even managed to win over the usually cynical and frequently skeptical during a landmark year or so of campaigning. Some feel betrayed, but most feel numb. Others are angry at themselves for being true believers. "How could this be?", they say. Candidate Obama seemed to encapsulate all the best things about the United States, thrilling millions of people with the promise of better times and an efficient, reform-minded government. Countless articles soon to come will attempt to answer the question of Why Obama Slept, but until then, our faith continues to erode.

Do we even need a Superman to save us from ourselves? Must that Superman come in the form of a smooth talker with great plans but without the political skills to put them into action? The more I contemplate our fate, I continually wish for a Chief Executive more like Harry Truman. Truman spoke his mind and didn't much care whether you agreed with him or not. He would have laughed at the idea of bipartisan civility. In the end, it was a series of corruption scandals involving high-ranking officials that kept Truman from a second full term as President, much as high unemployment and a fragile economy has slowly drained political capital from our current President. Although wars are never trifling matters in my book, immediate financial woes are front and center in the public consciousness.

It should be said that I am not writing Obama's political obituary. If I was, I would suggest our President next consider being Kenya's leader for a while. It would be interesting to see if he could make up for his father's notable failings. Should Obama win a second term in office, he will need to learn from his mistakes to redeem his historical legacy. As much as he might claim that such things are unimportant, no one gets involved in politics, especially on such a large scale, without the intention to leave a lasting mark. Everyone wants to be remembered for years to come and to have this memory appropriately enshrined so that even those not alive to remember them can place their name.

At the moment, Obama holds company with several other average Presidents, many of whom are now just a name in a history textbook. It will be interesting to see how popular opinion and with it the passage of time will change minds. Some unpopular Presidents have seen their standing improved based on new scholarship. Some, like U.S. Grant, were considered failures at the time and are still viewed dimly today. One can never predict the future or what issues will be important to Americans years from now. But what can be influenced is the present, and present problems have never been adequately addressed by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is indeed strange that a President who came into office promising increased transparency has been so difficult to understand. No consensus opinion exists to explain why. The more or less narrative simplicity of both Bush terms was never in doubt. Now, we seem to have elected a question mark when we thought we were receiving an exclamation point. We all fumble about, as though blindfolded, trying to understand and instead growing ever more confused. Our economic crisis is an existential one as well, and I would just as well we replace philosophy with results. The President retains some goodwill in my book, but the longer his solutions prove ineffective, even a divided Republican Party has a chance to defeat him in November of next year. One jobs bill unlikely to pass except in truncated form is not sufficient to undo a mixed Presidential reputation.

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