Obama’s Dilemma

Something that has slipped from people’s consciousness, but is nevertheless of significance for world affairs is [this fact]: In four weeks, the Americans will be voting again. Not for their president, but for all 435 delegates of the House of Representatives and a third of the members of the 100-strong Senate.

On Tuesday, Nov. 4th, it will also be decided if Barack Obama’s Democrats will lose their majority in the Senate to the opposition Republicans like they did in 2010. In short: It’s about whether the president will be able to get any political projects through Congress in his last two years in office or — domestically, at least — [whether he] will be completely paralyzed.

It does not look good for Obama and his party. The current election forecasts are devastating. Nearly everywhere in the country the Democrats are sounding the alarm, even in places where they and Obama achieved clear majorities in the presidential election two years ago — in the state of Colorado, for instance.

Most Americans grade Barack Obama extremely poorly, nearly as bad as George W. Bush. It doesn’t matter on which topic; whether it’s foreign, domestic or economic policy, the people don’t think Obama is capable of much anymore. This negative atmosphere also inevitably affects his party.

The harsh judgment of the president is in part unfair because, for instance, the unemployment rate is lower than it has been for a long time. As of last week, it stands at just 5.9 percent and has almost halved since Obama’s first year in office. Therefore, if the old political adage that Americans vote with their wallets is still true, then why shouldn’t the 44th president and the Democrats not profit from this upswing?

There is a general cause for this and a second reason, for which Obama himself is responsible. The general cause: it is completely normal that the president’s party would be ruffled by the midterm elections. Troublesome elections and split majorities have always been a democratic tradition in the United States. Whether Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush — they all learned this the hard way. Also, a lot fewer people vote in the midterms compared to a general election. It’s normally opponents and the disappointed that vote.

The disillusionment with Obama also, however, has very particular reasons that have to do with him personally. Unlike any other president since John F. Kennedy, Obama understood how to inspire Americans, in particular young people, women and minorities.

Obama promised a new age. He wanted to bring the right and left together and overcome deep political divisions. He announced that he would close the prison camp at Guantanamo within a year, end the war and not start another. He promised to defeat the Taliban, as he now promises to destroy the holy warriors of the Islamic State. All Americans should be able to enjoy the benefit of health insurance and nobody should lose their existing insurance due to the reform.

But all these big promises were often followed by small actions. Several promises crumbled in the face of embittered resistance from Republicans or were carved up beyond recognition in the tough political machine. The exceptionally gifted orator was often unable to overcome small obstacles. Often, all he had for the troubles found at this level was contempt. Obama would rather float over the clouds.

The sharp fall in voter favor is obviously not his fault alone. His dilemma is also the dilemma of his voters and the system. Americans want to be inspired and swept away. They positively wish and long for a state leader who unfurls visions and promises a golden future. The more flamboyant the announcements, the better. After each new presidential election Americans expect a new start. If the contradiction between promise and fulfillment turns out to be too large, they punish the lords in the White House.

Many presidents, therefore, change in due time and speak with less grandiosity while in office. They begin instead to play hardball, simultaneously schmoozing and threatening their opponents behind closed doors. But Obama hasn’t mastered this hard political day-to-day business; he fundamentally despises it.

For too long he depended on the supposed power of his rhetoric, and remains to this day in love with overly big words. But he still makes promises that he can barely keep: for example, [his promise] to defeat the Islamic State group. The Americans don’t trust these proclamations any longer, and in their disappointment they block out and forget that Obama delivered on some of them and has improved many things. If the prognoses are correct, the voters will punish Obama and his Democrats painfully on Nov. 4.

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