Long ago and gone are the days of inspired campaigning, slogans of change, and promises of bipartisanship for President Obama. These have been replaced by political miscalculations, broken promises, and transforming ideology that have dampened the president’s brand.
The Republican Party, once in shambles following the 2008 election cycle, has quickly regained its footing and again found a place amongst the American electorate. The economy continues to struggle and the president’s health care reform legislation has failed to gain traction with a majority of Americans. The president’s first two years have been anything but a success.
The president underestimated and misinterpreted the American people’s anger and anxiety over both the economic and fiscal issues facing the country. With a growing national debt, the president was doomed to political damage regardless of the ideological nature of his policy proposals. Any proposed legislation that increased the national deficit, regardless of ideological basis, faced a steep uphill battle toward favorable public opinion. Health care reform legislation and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act became the main targets of fiscal conservatives and other voters concerned with growing national government. To many voters, they became symbols of out-of-control spending and a growing government presence in people’s lives. Whether these feelings were legitimate or not, the emotions and anger of voters were real and underestimated by the administration.
Another major error was the administration’s lack of focus on the economy. Following a statement by two of the president’s key economic advisors (Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein) that the unemployment rate would not rise above 8% if the stimulus package passed, the president’s economic strategy was doomed to unrealistic and high expectations. As the unemployment rate rose above 8%, the public perceived these statistics as signs that the administration had lost focus and dropped the ball on the economy. As the administration moved legislation and debate toward health care and other policy initiatives, it began bleeding confidence from the American voter, particularly Independents.
Perhaps one of the biggest failures of the administration’s first two years was the inability to effectively work with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Whether or not the president ignored Republicans or vice versa, the opposition party was successful to some extent in creating a sharp divide between themselves and the president. To many, this divide was viewed as proof that the president was a partisan ideologue uninterested in ideas from the other side of the aisle. This stoked voter anger and created much of the anti-establishment fever that left a historic number of Democratic lawmakers packing their bags following the 2010 midterm election.
President Obama faced numerous challenges during his first two years in office. From a struggling economy to a historic midterm election loss, the president’s brand has been damaged amongst the American electorate. Whether this damage will be permanent remains unknown. Ideology aside, this was not a positive start to the Obama presidency. The next two years should be interesting.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons