In spite of all the doomsayers and his graying hair, Obama’s chances for re-election in 2012 are not bad. Today, he celebrates his 50th birthday.
Today, Barack Obama will be 50, and according to him, First Lady Michelle still finds him cute. Voters, however, are giving the president the cold shoulder before his birthday. A Gallup Poll released in the last week of July indicated a new low for Obama. Only 42 percent of those surveyed rated his administration positively. According to the highly respected public opinion poll, that number was only 40 percent for three days. With that, the president’s approval rating plunged to the lowest it has been since he entered the White House in January 2009.
The media is proving to be even more unforgiving than the voters. Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, who actually leans Democratic, entitled his New York Times column “The President Surrenders,” calling the debt deal announced on Sunday a “political catastrophe.” The New York Times also reported that the compromise with Republicans in Congress, coming after months of wrangling over raising the debt ceiling and trimming the budget, triggered an “outcry from the left.”
The resulting deal, which calls for drastic spending cuts but absolutely no increased tax revenue, was derided as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich” by Emmanuel Cleaver, a Democratic representative from the state of Missouri.
“Dings and Dents” Inflicted during the Negotiations
Happy birthday, Mr. President. He himself admits to coming out of the negotiations with “dings and dents.” However, Obama’s situation right now — one year before the start of the full swing of the election campaign — can also be analyzed in a different way.
With the compromise, he avoided the government defaulting on its debts and the U.S. credit rating being bumped down. The Armageddon he warned of has been averted. The polls also show that in previous political battles, Americans primarily hold Republicans in Congress responsible, followed by Democrats and lastly the president.
Tomorrow, other topics will be in the headlines; on the day after tomorrow, one may remember less about the details of the compromise than they do about the stubbornness of Congress’ embattled factions and the patience of Obama, who, through his tenacious efforts, surmounted the deadlock and found a solution.
Obama Celebrates in Chicago, His Home City
In addition, hundreds of birthday parties across the country, triggered by Obama’s campaign team through grassroots initiatives, should distract voters. The president himself will celebrate in his home city, Chicago, the Cape Canaveral of his rocket-like political ascent. Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson and jazz legend Herbie Hancock will perform to get citizens and invited VIPs in the mood to donate.
By June, three weeks after the start of the re-election campaign, the organization Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee had already raised $86 million. That is still a long way off from the $1 billion being sought, but the successful kick-off to the fundraising surprised observers nonetheless.
At the same time, the White House has markedly changed Obama. His hair has become gray in the last two and a half years. "Malia and Sasha say it makes me look distinguished,” he says, referring to his 13 and 10-year-old daughters. He admits with a wink, however, “Michelle says it makes me look old."
Under pressure from his wife, Obama has stopped smoking. The man, who is 1.85 meters tall, has kept his lanky, boyish figure, which has yet to give in to a stressful job with countless night shifts at the desk. By using the treadmill, lifting weights, playing golf and occasionally coaching Sasha’s basketball team, the president prevents a weight gain.
He Once Stood for the Emancipation of Minorities
The perception of Obama as a politician has undergone larger changes. He once stood for the emancipation of minorities, especially African-Americans, and his 2008 candidacy was understood as a leftist undertaking. Besides blacks, first-time voters, women and Hispanics also voted for him in disproportionate numbers. Opponents of war, critics of capitalism and homosexuals campaigned on the Internet for Obama, who promised to make everything different and ran on a slogan containing hope: “Yes we can.”
All that seems worlds apart from the present situation. There is an official unemployment rate of 9 percent and the real estate market has yet to stabilize. On the other hand, accusations that the president is “weak in making decisions” and tends to sacrifice American interests in foreign policy have not been heard since the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
The dangerous conspiracy theory that Obama’s presidency is illegal because he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii lives on. However, it no longer resonates with most people since the president publicly presented his birth certificate at the end of April.
The once popular defamatory charge that Obama, as the initiator of health care reform and mandatory universal insurance, has surrounded himself with radical leftists and is himself a closet socialist, clashes with the fact that Obama took the side of high-income earners and businesses during the debt dispute.
A Considerable Shift to the Right
Obama has shifted considerably to the right on the political spectrum of the U.S. From the beginning, his foreign policy has been based on basic convictions about national security that did not differ from those of his predecessors. On issues like the now-broken promise to shut down Guantanamo within a year, the idealistic Obama gave way to a pragmatic commander-in-chief.
That disappointed the liberals (that is what leftists are called in the U.S.), who mobilized on the streets in support of Obama the candidate. Next year, they will no longer do that, but they will still vote for Obama on November 6 to keep Republicans out of the White House. According to Monday’s Gallup Poll, 72 percent of those calling themselves liberals approve of the Obama administration.
If the voters on the left do not desert the president in spite of low enthusiasm, the election will depend on the middle, the independents. On the issues of economics and finances, they usually lean closer to the pragmatic wing of the Republicans than the Democrats.
The New York Times believes that Obama’s decision for drastic cuts in government spending can “help win back the independent voters who were crucial to his victory in 2008.”
Futile Campaign for a “Balanced Approach”
During the deficit negotiations, the independents rejected the Democrats’ demands for continuation of the debt policy and abandonment of the reform of social policies. They were at least equally displeased with the stubbornness of the Republicans, whose position of allowing no tax increases was borrowed from the tea party.
Obama campaigned in vain for a “balanced approach” in which every $4 in cuts would come with $1 of new tax revenue.
In the election campaign, he can once again publicize this idea and, in a populist appeal, call for the end of George W. Bush’s tax cuts for high-income earners, hedge fund managers, oil companies and owners of corporate jets.
That will catch on with the independents during difficult economic times in which the lower-income groups and middle class will suffer from the cuts in public spending and the resulting laying off of public employees.
Chances Are Not Bad in Spite of Perceived Setbacks
Obama’s chances in 2012 are not bad in spite of the perceived setbacks over the past few weeks. They are improved because until now, the Republicans have not been able to present a candidate for the White House who outshines the rest of the field.
Crucial for the victory or defeat of the president in November of next year, however, will be the situation in the job market. Will there at least be a hint of improvement? Barack Obama doesn’t wish for anything more on his birthday than “jobs, jobs, jobs.”