A Limited Dream

Why Obama’s failure to successfully sell his agenda to the voters now has to be rectified.

“Get out your Wonderbras and your ‘Forrest Gump’ videocassettes. It’s starting to feel like 1994 all over again,” wrote Dana Milbank, one of Washington’s most acerbic columnists recently. He was referring to Bill Clinton’s losses in the midterm elections. Like Clinton, Obama is endlessly making the rounds and repeating almost word for word the speeches that were given by his predecessor. Like his predecessor, he will probably suffer the same losses in the midterms.

That it has come down to this is now considered a foregone conclusion. And the speculation about Obama’s ability to govern after the elections – faced with a divided Congress, or, as was Clinton’s fate, a Congress totally controlled by Republicans – is out of control.

What’s being ignored above all is the completely different political environment between the Wonderbra of 1994 and the tightly-laced corset of 2010. After some initial stumbling, the U.S. economy took off for the remainder of Clinton’s term and enjoyed unprecedented success. In contrast, under Obama, the economy stumbles along in the midst of the greatest systemic crisis the United States has ever seen.

The political clout of the states is suffering partisan paralysis and the economic model based on borrowed money has become untenable. A large fraction of the population will have to learn to be satisfied with less for many years to come. Stagnation will set the tone in future years.

The American dream that everyone can get ahead if only they work diligently has reached its limits. Some refuse to believe that and flee like Tea Party demagogues into imaginary reminiscences. Others, like those Barack Obama galvanized into action with his slogan of “change” in 2008, have again become apolitical.

Obama certainly made many errors over the past months. His image as a detached intellectual began to irritate many people as he concentrated almost exclusively on promoting his agenda while failing, above all, to successfully sell his message to the voters. That was bound to have consequences.

On the other hand, it’s also unfair to blame the whole debacle (including the part caused by Bill Clinton, by the way) on him. At least the current occupant of the White House understands and recognizes the seriousness of the national situation. The same can’t be said for some of the previous occupants.

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