What a difference a couple years make! In 2009, the new president enjoyed political conditions conducive to his domestic agenda. For years, strong pluralities of voters had favored national plans to curb climate change and provide universal health care. However unfairly, free enterprise had taken a beating due to the 2008 financial collapse. Conventional wisdom had long been that Democrats better managed the economy, and Republicans were stronger on national security. Having bungled both, the Bush administration set up the perfect volley for Obama to advance his social democratic program. For his first year, Obama picked economic winners and losers, bailed out industries, appointed tsars to oversee industry, even told a CEO to step down. The economy was his oyster and his Midas touch would bring it back to life.
That was then. Today, unemployment remains very high – about as bad as it would be, warned the Democrats, if their stimulus plan wasn’t passed (though it was). Economic prospects for blacks and the young, two of Obama’s strongest demographic allies, have especially suffered. The “green shoots” from 2009 that allegedly foreshadowed impending recovery have instead given way to a prolonged slump, complete with stock market disappointments and record prices in energy and gold.
To compound the President’s problems, Obama could not get the tax increases he wanted. His hands seem to be tied. Cap and trade may never see the light of day, nor will a hundred other promises he made on the campaign trail. Not only did the public vote for the opposition in the midterm election, the people are generally fed up with Washington.
Obama wrapped up his bus tour to the Midwest this week, peddling his economic snake oil and pleading for another term. According to the National Journal, he won four out of five of the districts he visited and barely lost the other in 2008. The five cities are all doing well economically compared to most of America. Obama avoided communities devastated by mass foreclosures and double-digit unemployment. Although despite his best efforts, he was unable to escape the heat from Iowa Tea Party’s Co-Chairman Ryan Rhodes following a stump speech. Yet, the President’s Midwestern tour was clearly spent wooing those who should already be in his camp. With a Gallup approval rating of 39%, Obama appears to be ignoring those he most needs to persuade.
The President is not the only one who has lost the people’s faith. The bipartisan Congress fares worse, according to Rasmussen, with only 6% of voters saying that its performance is either good or excellent. Most voters want to dump the entire slate of incumbents.
It is an all-out crisis of legitimacy. Only 17% of polled Americans said the federal government had the consent of the governed. While a majority of the political class believes the government has the people’s consent, 77% of mainstream voters do not.
Only 22% approve the recent debt ceiling agreement. A majority does not believe the promises about spending cuts. Most Americans want to see Obamacare repealed, a constant result of polling since it passed last March.
Obama’s economic failures have rendered his presidency impotent and forced him to defend his once popular program. Meanwhile, the Republicans are preparing to compete for the White House in 2012 without a clear alternative vision. Perhaps this is why Ron Paul, the Congressman mainstream Republicans laughed at in 2008 for his antiwar, anti-Federal Reserve, and generally libertarian positions, has managed to come within 1% of winning the straw poll in conservative Iowa.
For the most part, however, the Republicans continue to push an agenda only slightly different from that of the president. Obama’s economic policy has been stalled, but there is little evidence of a forthcoming radical departure, so long as the regular suspects continue to run the show. Nevertheless, those who have been concerned about the dizzying pace at which Obama’s fanciful plans have become political reality can breathe in relief that the whole agenda now appears to be on the defensive.