Just a year into the Obama Administration, things look very different than candidate Obama said they would last November. Both in domestic and international affairs, the first year of Obama’s presidency must by any objective standard be judged a dismal failure. His victories have largely been small and partisan, while his defeats have been large and bipartisan. Obama has been ridiculed even in his moments of triumph, and he closes the year with the dubious distinction of becoming the most polarizing president in history, in the shortest amount of time ever.
On January 20, 2009, the new president’s approval rating stood at 68 percent in the Gallup poll. Obama started his presidency with the highest approval number in the poll of any president since John F. Kennedy in 1961. Only twelve percent said they disapproved of his job performance, a low bested only by George H.W. Bush in 1989 and one point lower than the 13 percent who disapproved of Ronald Reagan at the start of his first term in 1981. Obama began on a high.
The new president chose to spend that political capital on rolling back several of George W. Bush’s administration’s programs. He rescinded the prohibition on funding for abortions overseas, he announced the planned closure of the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and he ordered a halt to military commissions for terrorist suspects imprisoned there.
Domestically, he made passage of an economic stimulus package his first top priority. With dire warnings of economic collapse and unemployment climbing to over eight percent, President Obama endorsed the eventual $787 billion package rammed through Congress with only three liberal Republican Senators in support.
Despite passage of the so-called stimulus – and some economists argue because of it – unemployment has risen to ten percent and shows scant evidence of coming back down soon. Democrats are now considering a second round of stimulus modeled on the unsuccessful first round while the White House makes the Orwellian claim that it has rescued the economy from the brink of depression.
The public is not amused. A solid majority of 53 percent, the same number that voted for him a year earlier, recently told Gallup they are dissatisfied with Obama’s handling of the economy. Fifty-five percent disapprove of his job creation efforts. That the stimulus has been a failure is evidenced by the fact that the administration recently announced that Obama would make a “hard pivot” to job creation in January.
On foreign policy, the Obama Administration’s first year efforts have met with little more success. The president whose name merely placed in nomination was supposed to stop the rise of the oceans due to global warming wasn’t able to get the world to do more than “take notice” of a very weak tea agreement on carbon emissions in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen in particular was not good to Obama in his first year. Obama winged his way there in September to seal his hometown Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 summer games. The delegates listened politely, took pictures, sought autographs, and promptly eliminated Chicago in the first round of balloting. It was a public relations disaster for the president who promised to make the world love America again.
Obama spent the year jetting from capital to capital across the globe apologizing for his country; literally bowing and scraping before royalty and world leaders. He capitulated to Russia on missile defense, and to Iran on nuclear weapons. He ended the war on terror, and announced the coming end of the war in Afghanistan. He refused to support a nascent revolution in Iran, and tried to foment one in Honduras. He gave in to the world, and the world gave to him, awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in October.
But the award was met with derision here and abroad, with most serious commentators calling it premature at best. Even Obama himself was forced to admit that he did not deserve the award, but accepted it anyway as a “call to action.” But that phrase remains a hollow one, as Obama has shown precious little ability to call the world to action on any issue in his first year. By the time he was awarded the prize in Oslo earlier this month, only nineteen percent of Americans were willing to say that he deserved it.
Back on the domestic front, Obama closed the year with a mad dash for health care legislation. His first major push for health care nationalization ended in a conflagration of voter anger and town hall protests in August. But the House passed a bill in November and the Senate rushed another version through this month, giving its bill final approval on Christmas Eve. Americans, however, are soundly rejecting the gift, with fifty-five percent telling Rasmussen they disapprove of the plan.
All of this has led to a record first year collapse in Obama’s presidential approval rating. The year that began with so much hope, optimism, and expectation ends with roughly half of Americans disapproving of his performance. His 47 percent approval in the latest Gallup poll was the lowest rating achieved by a first-year president in the history of the poll. The White House response was to criticize the poll, calling the most respected and longest running presidential approval survey, “meaningless.”
Candidate Barack Obama was a hope salesman in 2008. And he did his job well, convincing 53% of the country that his mere presence in the White House alone would usher in a new way of doing business in Washington, a new reality in world affairs, and a brighter future for the United States and the world.
Perhaps he oversold.