Gone in Two Years?

President Obama is unpopular and might face difficulty if he seeks reelection in 2012.

President Barack Obama is briefed in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington DC, September 2
President Barack Obama is briefed in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington DC, September 2 (White House/Pete Souza)

Since he won the election in 2008 with some ten million votes ahead of his competitor, President Barack Obama’s popularity has fallen dramatically. A Fox News poll found that just four out of ten Americans would vote for Obama today. Members of his own party are distancing themselves for the president in anticipation of November’s midterm elections for Congress. Can Obama run again?

The president himself fueled speculation about this ambitions for 2012 last January, when he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that he would “rather be a really good one term president than a mediocre two term president.” His agenda so far has been true to this intention, boasting a series of impressive policy accomplishments.

In March of this year, the president’s party enacted health-care reform, delivering on a generation old Democratic campaign promise with comprehensive legislation that is set to provide millions more of Americans with health insurance over the coming years. In the face of mounting Republican opposition and a popular uprisings against what was readily dubbed “Obamacare”, the president declared that he had “proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.”

Soon after, the administration geared up for a spring offensive, hoping to tackle similarly controversial issues on the wave of its health-care success. Democratic lawmakers hammered out financial reform in June: “the toughest financial reform since the one we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression,” according to Obama.

The president failed to turn nationwide frustration with BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer into political support for his energy agenda but after November’s midterms, the Democrats are likely to have another go at reform.

But in spite, or perhaps because of it all, Republicans, a mere two years after George W. Bush left office deeply unpopular, are prospering in the polls while the president has to cope with mounting discontent, both among moderate voters and from members of his own party who, struggling to be reelected, sometimes distance themselves from his administration’s more radical economic policies.

The White House understands that it has taken the country on too great of a swing to the left, even if the outcome of the 2008 presidential election appeared a mandate for just that. The president, who has liked to portray himself as practical and pragmatic, has recently stopped blaming Republicans and begun to praise business and Americans’ entrepreneurial resolve. Suddenly, the free market is “what sets America apart” according Obama and he wants government to get out of the way of job creation. It’s not very convincing from an administration that seems to believe that regulated markets work best but two years from now, voters may have forgotten all that.

What they probably won’t forget is the pragmatism that is so characteristic of this president. Indeed, Obama’s self professed lack of dogma or principle may well be his greatest shortcoming. The White House would likely retort that this president intends to “transcend” partisan divide and “ideological entrenchment” but most Americans simply don’t understand what Obama believes in. This is fueling fantasies of him being a foreigner, a Muslim or a communist and it has discouraged his leftist base of urban professionals who had such high hopes for this administration.

It may be quite impossible for the president to overcome this impediment. He is a pragmatic by nature and proudly so. But the American people, it seems, by majority, are not.

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