When Obama ascended his role as president-elect in 2008, he was set for a big test.
Facing the greatest economic crisis and highest levels of unemployment since the 1930s, the new presidency was the chance to make good on his economic and social promises, and change the “arc of history,” to bring about major reform across the board, especially in terms of economic and fiscal policy.
Obama side-stepped the challenge and took the easy way out. Instead of targeting and pursuing the people who wrecked the economy with criminal indictments, Obama put them in charge of it.
Opting not to have an independent oversight board, Obama’s financial reform plan instead called for a study by the Securities and Exchange Commission, out of which not a single prosecution of a Wall Street executive or financial firm has come about. It put few restrictions on the banks, while the other financials firms on Wall Street could go back to conducting business as usual, and further neglected to address the problematic nature of executive compensation, which reports show are the leading causes of the Great Recession. He backed away from a big stimulus, and instead diluted the economy with continued tax cuts to the wealthy which had in years past already been ineffective. It is then no surprise that according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, unfavorable views of Obama are now at the highest level of his presidency.
The general discontent that resonates in America could be rooted in the soaring rhetoric and empty promises that were the core staples of Obama’s platform in 2008. He promised to be the “change we need,” yet many Americans find themselves three years later in the same position, or worse, than when he started.
According to the Miami Herald, the jobless rate was 8.2% during Obama’s first full month in office. It still stands strong at 8.6% today, that is, now that a considerable amount of unemployed have stopped the soul-sucking process of actively looking for jobs. As Ed Luce of the Financial Times notes, "According to government statistics, if the same number of people were seeking work today as in 2007, the jobless rate would be 11%."
While I must give Obama credit “for having saved the country from another Great Depression,” and for saving the auto industry, Obama has broadly let America down by refusing to hold his ground against the GOP, by letting his liberal platform fall by the wayside and negotiate instead on GOP terms.
However, as he asserted in his speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, last week, Obama is finally up for the challenge. Obama echoed Teddy Roosevelt by saying, "... the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded." It is, he said, "not just another political debate" but "the defining issue of our time."
Which brings us back to the polls. As an incumbent, Obama is now pinning himself in a dangerous hole, a link to the clear gap of what Obama had promised and what actually came to fruition during his first term. As Dan Froomkin in the Huffington Post said, "...the higher he soars with his populist rhetoric, the more he calls attention to the enormous gap between the promise of hope and change that he campaigned on in 2008 and the actions he has taken as president."
Whether Obama will get the chance to make it right the second time around, is anybody’s guess. However, one thing is for certain: in order to drive public policy, Obama will need a lot more than lofty rhetoric.
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