Obama, Winning the Battle, Losing the War
It’s been 23 months since President Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, marking a seminal threshold in most Presidents’ tenure. With an approval rating south of 50%, which is a precipitous fall from his extraordinary approval rating of 70% in 2008, Obama and his administration are struggling to define their agenda amidst a rising tide of anger and voter apathy. And with the recent tidal wave of Republican victories, Obama faces a defining moment in his tenure as POTUS.
Despite Obama’s precarious poll numbers, he’s actually accomplished quite a bit since he took office. From cash for clunkers, saving the auto industry, healthcare reform, credit card regulation, saving millions of jobs via the stimulus bill and also bringing an end to the Iraq war. The problem with Obama’s administration is that they miscalculated the amount of vitriol and propaganda that the GOP would deploy in an effort to castigate and defame him as a credible President.
In the early stages of Obama’s administration, he was able to placate the Republicans and win political points by publicly challenging the GOP on issues such as healthcare reform on national television. Prior to the passage of the healthcare bill, Obama held court with his nemesis, giving them a public opportunity to interject their ideas into the healthcare reform debate. Most of the Republicans who attended the public forum, simply espoused a well rehearsed party line of, “Stop and start over”, in attempt to portray the President and his advisors as bullies who were unconcerned about non-partisanship.
Most Americans had a chance to see their newly elected Commander in action and demonstrate that he was willing to stand up for reform and confront recalcitrant Republicans, who stood steadfast in their opposition to any Obama sponsored bill, and as a result were coined the “Party of NO.”
Most Presidents stumble in the first two years of their administration, Clinton and Reagan both had anemic approval ratings at the same point in their tenure. Both Clinton and Reagan obviously went on to have remarkable careers, primarily due to economic recoveries during their administrations. In Clinton’s first year in office, the unemployment rate was 7.5 %, but thanks to an improving economy, he was reelected and left the country with a substantial surplus at the end of his career. In Reagan’s second year in office, the unemployment rate was 9.5 %, but by the time he was preparing for his reelection, the economy was recovering and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 %.
The good news for Obama is that all the economic indicators demonstrate an improving economy since he’s taken office. The recent jobs report indicates that the American economy added over 150,000 jobs in October, continuing a 10 month trend of job creation. And according to the OMB, the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, although most currently unemployed Americans would disagree with that finding.
Economic recovery is obviously a vital part of any Presidents approval rating; when Americans are gainfully employed they are less likely to blame the President for their struggles. However, in Obama’s case, the GOP has consistently used the lagging economy, the anger of the Tea Party and the calculated questioning of his citizenship and his faith as an effective propaganda tool to discredit him as a viable leader.
The problem with Obama’s administration has not been a lack of accomplishments on several fronts, but a failure to counterattack the vicious subterfuge being perpetuated by the GOP. During the early days of his administration when he successfully held serve against the GOP in televised debates about healthcare reform, it was clear that he was in his comfort zone. Obama was able to articulate every facet of the new reform bill and challenge GOP dissenters on substantive issues related to the bill.
However, since the passage of the healthcare reform bill, Republicans have used the new healthcare reform law as a lightning rod to stir up their base and further buttress their claims that Obama and the Democrats were leading our country into unbridled Socialism and also adding to the federal deficit.
In recent polls, approximately 48% of Americans support a repeal of the healthcare law, which probably could have been abated if Obama and his administration had aggressively “sold” and informed the American public about the long term benefits of the nascent law. Obama probably assumed that the immediate benefits of the new law, such as extended coverage for dependents under their parent’s plan until the age of 26 and a reversal in denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions would be enough to quell the outrage against the reforms.
Obama’s underestimation of the GOP’s attack and the health insurance lobbyists was a primary reason that the Democrats lost so many seats. The passage of healthcare reform was one of the most historic landmark events in our country and Obama’s failure to “educate” and defend this new law was a major misstep.
In 1935, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law, the Social Security act, which required mandatory taxes to be withheld from all employees’ wages. There was considerable opposition and cries of Socialism to the proposed Social Security Act from his opponents. Sound familiar? However, Roosevelt was steadfast in his support of the Act and rebuffed any attempts by employers and states to repeal the law.
Perhaps Obama could learn from Roosevelt’s unflinching stance and his persistence in the face of detractors. It’s clear that the right wing forces are unconcerned with bi-partisanship, they simply want to defeat him at all cost. In order for Obama to restore his poll numbers, he must begin to win the War of Perception. He must essentially beat the Republicans at their own game, by using the media to challenge the numerous misconceptions about his policies that proliferate the conservative media.
In a country where more people are concerned about voting on American Idol than they are about voting for our leaders, winning the War of Perception is more vital than ever.