Obama and easy target for blame

Friday February 5 2010

By RANDALL SMITH

President Obama’s ratings, which soared to 68 per cent approval last year, have now dipped below 50 per cent.

The Republicans, who gave the world George W. Bush, are winning elections again. They took the Senate seat occupied by the late Sen Edward Kennedy, and it looks like they’ll very likely win Obama’s old job in Illinois. A year ago, this would have been unimaginable.

So why is this happening? The answer is complex. The most important explanation is that the US is still hurting from the economic downturn that began in December 2007.

Unemployment remains at 10 per cent, and there are reports that some cities do not have enough food to feed those without work.

These are unimaginable times in America.

After he won the presidency, Obama took a victory lap around the world to great applause. He came back and quickly got Congress to approve an enormous economic recovery act, and then set to work on passing healthcare legislation.

The problem is that the economic downturn was far more serious than first thought. In taking his eye off the problem, Obama gave ample opening for his critics to start a potent campaign with the American public.

They used every opportunity. You may remember when Air Force One, unknown to the president, did a sweep of New York and many thought 9/11 was happening again. Or when those imposter guests sneaked into a presidential event.

The demand from opponents: Who’s running the White House? Mid-last year, there were angry and widely covered protests at Senate hearings on healthcare, and outcries about the enormous debt that the government is accumulating.

Much of this has been orchestrated by conservatives and special interests. But it’s resonating with a public that’s grown tired of years of recession and is beginning to have concerns whether Obama is the man to lead America out of this mess.

FROM ABROAD, IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE QU-ite a change. But it’s been a slow meltdown when watched closely. The American voter is fickle, and the economy is the Achille’s heel of our nation. So will there be a reversal of course? In American politics, as we have seen, anything is possible.

A very similar scenario happened to the conservative and popular president Ronald Reagan. His election was seen as the start of a Republican revolution, but it almost ground to a halt because of the recession of 1981-82.

But Obama is not Reagan, and this is not the recession of the early 1980s.

By all forecasts, it looks like another tough economic year in the US. America needs another boost of stimulus spending, according to many economists, and it’s unlikely that Obama will be able to get it through without Republican assistance.

So the political divisions, which have grown deeper in the past year, may likely mean the public will suffer in ways that, unfortunately, could be avoided if everyone in Congress were looking out for America.

So expect further surprises. It’s quite possible that Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate, will be defeated in Nevada before June.

In their pain, Americans are redrafting their political allegiances. Many of the country’s Democrats are switching sides as they see neighbours lose their homes to foreclosure. They have to blame somebody, and the incumbent is an easy target.

Will Obama be able to recover? Perhaps.

The best scenario: There’s an outside chance that the economy will improve enough within the next two years that Obama will be able to take some credit.
Voters will decide that the worst is behind them, switch sides again and give the president a second chance to accomplish his programmes.

When Bill Clinton defeated the first George Bush in the early 1990s, there was a slogan that was whispered on the campaign trail. Asked why Clinton was gaining so quickly on a once popular wartime president, Clinton supporters would say: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

That remains as true today as it did 20 years ago.

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