Aug 11, 2011 12:49 AM GMT
As America's first black president, Barack Obama electrified an entire nation. But now that the nation is in crisis, he seems unable to connect with the people. He wanted to change America and restore its reputation in the world. But now his opponents are dictating the country's political course.
When Barack Obama was elected almost three years ago, the country seemed intoxicated. The world allowed itself to be carried along by this wave of enthusiasm, and by its hopes for a new, more peaceful America. A crowd of 200,000 people came to hear him speak at the Victory Column in Berlin; Kenyans spent the entire election night dancing in front of their television sets; in Japan, the residents of a fishing village named Obama celebrated his victory; in Gaza, where hatred for America is normally the prevailing sentiment, there were exuberant parties; and in London, Madame Tussauds wax museum handed out free tickets.
Obama's election was the self-affirmation of a nation that wanted to prove that the American dream was still alive. Not voting for Obama would have been cynical, timid and un-American.
The world also had high hopes for a changed America, a country that would be less militaristic than it was under his predecessor, George W. Bush, and one that would pursue smarter policies, both in dealing with the Islamic world and on issues of environmental protection and climate change.
This wasn't just wishful thinking on the part of his voters or his foreign admirers. In fact, it consisted of tangible promises Obama had actually made. Again and again, he talked of uniting the country and even healing the planet.
And? Did he make good on those promises?
Last week, both houses of the United States Congress approved a lazy compromise shaped by pre-election political interests. In doing so, they averted the threat of a government default, but only because no one could be sure that it might not lead directly to the collapse of the US and possibly the global financial system. The president was not even one of the main players anymore, and his fellow Democrats had already abandoned demands he had previously described as essential. Gone was the spirit of "Yes, we can." Now it seemed as if the rating agencies were dictating America's fate. The country that Obama had set out to lead to new heights now seemed to be immersed in frustration, faintheartedness and mutual finger-pointing.
Approval Ratings Plunge
The financial crisis that Obama inherited has changed America. Many citizens have been overcome by feelings of frustration and rage against people like the Wall Street elite, who continue to make money while the middle class have lost their homes and jobs. According to opinion polls, 54 percent of Americans say they have had to change their lifestyle, their American way of life, while a third of Americans say they are furious with the banks, the politicians and Obama.
Obama's approval ratings have plunged, with only 40 percent of Americans now saying they are satisfied with his performance. In April 2009, shortly after his inauguration, some 68 percent of Americans were still on Obama's side.
All that remains of the great hopes Americans and the world had pinned on Obama, inspired by his stirring campaign speeches about change and renewal, is a battlefield of unsatisfactory and contradictory compromises. Obama, who just turned 50 and was once a symbol of youthful change, suddenly seems old and worn out, as gray as his hair has become.
His decline in popularity has also destroyed the hope that Obama could bring new momentum to America and the world. With the debt-ceiling debate, the right-wing Tea Party movement has taken both Congress and Obama's presidency hostage. It is no longer the president who determines the issues and sets the tone of the debate, but a small, radicalized group of unashamedly amateur politicians who have declared the government to be their enemy. As the Tea Party gains stature, Obama loses credibility. Musician Harry Belafonte, once an ardent Obama supporter, has talked of his disappointment with the president. "He has only listened to the voices that shout the loudest, and it's all those reckless right-wing forces," Belafonte told CNN. "It's almost criminal."
The clash with the Tea Party has highlighted Obama's shortcomings. His opponents have everything he seems to lack. They are loud, confident and uncompromising, sticking to their principles while he repeatedly hesitates and delays. In the US midterm elections, dozens of Tea Party candidates managed to get elected to Congress by capitalizing on the rage of people who Obama had failed to connect with.