Barack Obama rode a veritable tsunami of support to the presidency in 2009. But one year later, the waves have died down considerably, leaving Obama’s influence, as Professor of Political Science Scott McLean put it, “dead in the water.”
“Never has so little been done with so much political capital,” McLean said. “The Obama movement has just evaporated.”
Exactly one year after Obama’s inauguration, Republican Scott Brown was elected to a Senate seat in Massachusetts, a Democratic stronghold since 1979. With Brown’s election, the filibuster-proof majority of the Democratic Party disappeared, and what has risen in its place is a staunch dissatisfaction with Obama’s lack of change.
“The irony to me is that Obama gets elected with the help of a social movement demanding change, and is fueled by the Internet and cell phones and the youth vote,” McLean said. “What has proved to be his undoing is his incapacity to keep that mobilization going after taking office.”
Late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon recently poked fun at the White House’s new iPhone application on Friday night, asking, “Not getting much done? There’s an app [sic] for that.”
According to McLean, who was present at Obama’s inauguration a year ago, the largest factor has been the administration’s fear to force the issue.
“The Obama administration avoids conflict,” he said. “They really don’t like it, and they don’t understand the nature of political conflict and the necessity of really twisting arms and using threats.”
Because of this timidity, most visible in the healthcare reform issue, political science student Matthew Ciepielowski has begun to see two groups fuming.
“Progressives are souring on him because healthcare reform has been a serious debacle, and something of a waste of time,” Ciepielowski, the former news editor for The Chronicle who is now studying at American University, said. “And many moderates are angry that he seems to be so involved with the lame-duck healthcare reform bill, and has done little to create jobs.”
McLean noted that while Obama and former President Bill Clinton had similar first years, Clinton would often put serious pressure on Congress, while Obama only “suggested” such things as his healthcare bill.
George Mason University historian Richard Norton Smith was equally critical of Obama’s toe-stepping fears.
“The candidate of change became the president of continuity, and that is a very politically perilous position to be in,” Smith said on the Jan. 19 episode of “PBS NewsHour.” The former speechwriter highlighted the bailout of AIG and General Motors, things absent from Obama’s platform as a candidate, as examples.
“If you could magically give Bush a third term, it wouldn’t look much different than Obama’s so far,” he said.
For Obama to create change–the very change he called for that swept him into the White House one year ago–McLean said his deliberate nature must be abandoned immediately.
“The philosophy right now is, ‘Let’s kick the can further down the road, and hope that it all turns out better in the end,’” he said. “But that’s just putting off the day of reckoning. Especially with foreign policy, a hard decision is going to need to be made, either a massive sacrifice of life and treasure in the Middle East, or a large pullout.”