American Democrats on the Back Foot: Barack Obama’s Last Act

As an old political proverb from the U.S. dictates, “you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.” Barack Obama, who once inspired millions of Americans with his highly ambitious rhetoric, but who then became entangled in the complicated web of political life, is the perfect embodiment of this. Be it in poetry or prose, the fourth and final act of the drama that is the Obama era will begin soon. It will likely portray a heavily ailing president who is losing grip on his authority, even over his political allies, as he has rarely been capable of setting new priorities, and because his own party is already planning its future without him.

With the beginning of his last two years in office, the president is faced with further humiliation. The hope that he could wrest control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans, and with it win back his ability to act, died long ago. On the contrary, what looms over the Democrats is that they will lose their majority in the Senate after next week’s vote.

The beaten and bruised Democratic candidates are treating Obama as if he has leprosy. Nobody wants to be seen with him in public. “The president’s not relevant,” snarled the Democratic senator from Alaska, “He’s gone in two years.” In Kentucky, the party’s candidate included the slogan “I am not Barack Obama” in her television campaign. She goes on to count out the differences between herself and the president and concludes by demonstrating her clay pigeon shooting skills.

A Slap in the Face from Tradition

Since Obama moved into the White House six years ago, the Democrats have steadily lost one position of power after another. Not only did they lose their dominant role in Congress, they could only stand by idly and watch as the scales tipped toward the Republicans at the state level too. Is Obama about to leave his party in a weaker state than it was when he took over? This would be a bitter pill to swallow for a politician who was candid in his desire to feature prominently in the history books.

And could the Democratic defeat in the congressional elections be a precursor to the fact that the next president will be a Republican? In the opposition camp, there is no shortage of hopefuls. Even one of Bush’s relatives, 61-year-old Jeb, seems to be at the ready. For Obama, who took office with the ambition of rebuilding the country’s political structure from the ground up, it would be a real dishonor if the Bush dynasty were allowed to make a comeback. However, not much indicates that such a scenario will come to pass at the moment.

A possible Republican victory on Nov. 4 does not mean that we can draw sweeping conclusions. Among other things, the Grand Old Party will profit from the fact that many seats in traditionally Republican strongholds are up for election in the Senate this year. Moreover, the Republicans have learned from past mistakes, being sure to repress the influence of the radical Tea Party movement when selecting its candidates. Above all, however, the tedium experienced by the electorate during each long presidency, and which traditionally opens the president’s party up to criticism around the middle of the second term is helping the Republicans.

With the exception of Bill Clinton, every re-elected president in the last 150 years has felt a “Six-Year-Itch” – Obama is not exempt from this. Only 40 percent of Americans consider his presidency to have been a good one. This is only slightly better than his predecessor George W. Bush’s popularity at the same stage in his presidency. Many of Obama’s former supporters are turning away from him because he has not fulfilled their expectations. They feel he lacks the necessary leadership skills, and they no longer trust him to deliver on his promise of transforming the United States into a more socially, ecologically and economically successful nation.

Obama cannot be blamed for the glaring mistakes made by Bush, Jr. The occupation of Iraq, for example, is one of these mistakes. The economy is also performing better than the displeasure of many voters would suggest: Growth is strong, the unemployment rate has dropped, and the housing market has recovered. The impression that the head of the White House is indecisive, has problems steering the governmental machine, and often quite easily drifts along with what is going on has contributed to this loss of popularity. This president will not be remembered as a modernizer with a particular flair for creativity. While the U.S. is currently experiencing fundamental upheavals, these are not primarily linked to the name “Obama.”

With its monetary relaxation, the central bank played a major role in stimulating the economy, while the most prominent socio-political breakthrough in recent times, the approval of homosexual marriages in most states of the union, was granted by the courts. In the last five years, the United States managed to reduce the intensity of its industry’s carbon dioxide emissions much more than the European Union was able to, and decreased its dependence on foreign petroleum to its lowest point for decades. These developments, however, are the result of technological revolutions, not of climate and energy laws passed in Washington.

Democratic Trump Cards

Obama’s most important legacy where domestic policy is concerned remains the health reforms of his first term in office. Its consequences are, however, viewed negatively, and it remains unpopular for the time being. Since Obama’s re-election, all other major plans – the relaxation of immigration policy, limitations on the weapons trade, the intended climate law – have fizzled out. If the Republicans gain control of the Senate, the White House will encounter bitter resistance in Congress. The derogatory term “lame duck president” will then increasingly make the rounds. However, none of this paves the way for the Republicans to re-enter the White House.

The party is still suffering from the same problems that cost it victory in 2012. It does not fare well among women, young voters and minorities, such as the Latino community, whose proportion of the electorate is growing rapidly. Organizationally, it is still behind the Democrats when it comes to mobilizing the electorate, and moving forward, it also lacks a figurehead such as that of the Democrats, for whom Hillary Clinton fills the role. As things stand today, the former secretary of state and senator has been dealt an excellent hand. Whether she will know just how to play it when 2016 comes around is another matter entirely.

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