Where did Obama go wrong?

Published: November 11, 2014
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Starting from a situation of hope and inspiration back in 2008, Obama seems to have got it all wrong. PHOTO: REUTERS

He’s a people’s man, a nice guy, a great ambassador, an honest, straight talking individual who means well and, of course, a committed family man. These are admirable personality traits and virtues but only if one is not the president of the United States of America.

Politics is a nasty business and President Obama is no stranger to it. His party was routed in the most devastating manner in the November 4 midterm elections – a clear show of no confidence in the president’s policies that essentially have taken the country one step forward and two steps backward. While the decisive Republican tsunami is a reiteration of the fact that the president’s ratings are at their lowest, many believe that GOP’s capture of both the houses of Congress will only drag the nation into further oblivion. Given Washington’s unpredictability, that obviously is something we will have to wait and see as we move forward.

Starting from a situation of hope and inspiration back in 2008, Obama seems to have got it all wrong. The energy and vitality that characterised the election of the first black American president soon started to disappear like morning dew and was overwhelmed by constant resistance coming from the Republican side. What happened in the next six years was nothing but a lame display of executive-legislature rivalry, a theatre of the absurd scenario that knew no bounds. Whereas the president tried hard to fulfil his campaign promises, he kept playing the nice guy role even at times when he could have steamrolled legislation without any logistical or constitutional hindrance. From that point on, all bets were on. The Republicans got to know that they can create all possible nuisances, use the word ‘no’ habitually as an unwritten rule and block any initiative that the president tried to take.

Unlike his predecessor, Obama hasn’t used fear tactics. During the eight years in which George Bush was in the White House, all one would come across was news of dangers to US security, horrendous war stories and escalation and de-escalation of threat levels. Intimidating tactics were massively used to scare folks, to engage and entangle them in concerns of attacks to their well-being and privacy. The strategy worked wonders, so much so that despite lousy popularity numbers, Bush was able to win a second term with ease and comfort.

Obama, on the other hand, has in fact tried to work on bringing down public apprehensions and adopt a much milder approach towards making the people aware of any potential threats to the American nation. Obviously, this non-Machiavellian plan of action has given an opportunity to the opposition to portray him as a pushover and a non-nationalistic leader who is careless about national security. The Tea Party folks, an ultra-right brand of the Republican Party, keep questioning the president’s loyalty, his credentials and qualifications to be in elected to the White House. This propaganda has only hurt Obama further.

Here’s one issue that Obama really messed up on – looking after the interests of people within the US. While he has worked tirelessly and focused tremendous amounts of energy on foreign policy matters, America stands in dire need of the head of state to pay attention to the simmering internal affairs. Despite his statement of conviction at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in which he declared that there was ‘not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America’, Obama’s presidency has witnessed the worst kind of racial strife in the US in decades.

Gun violence has taken away thousands of innocent lives. Weapons from the basic to the advanced ones are easily accessible to all and sundry. Despite the fact that the president is heard, after almost each successive gun related killing episode, that he will work on controlling the menace of arms, he has encountered stiff resistance to negotiate with the proponents of the out-dated second amendment to the US constitution. Gun violence is often attributed to the growing mental illness in the country. Even if one, for a second, believes this contention, not much seems to be done about the problem. It’s basically a zero sum game that is going the right winger’s way so far.

The economy is one huge problem that although on paper continues to show some progress, people are still highly sceptical about. Whereas employer confidence doesn’t seem to show much improvement, ordinary folks who don’t have great networking skills or don’t know the right people at the right time, essentially stand no chance of being emancipated.

This does not mean that all is lost or that America is doomed. Many believe that with the Republicans now controlling both the houses of Congress, it’ll be tough to imagine anyone focusing on human issues. Here’s how a friend aptly remarked soon after the election results were announced,

“Hooray? America just gave power in the Congress to the party that wants to repeal affordable healthcare, doesn’t believe in climate change or sustainable green energy, has a harsh line against immigration and won’t recognise women’s equality or gay rights. The party that rides the negative, takes advantage of fear, makes it difficult for all people to vote and works to undermine any positive movement put forward. I’m not sure who voted but it certainly wasn’t me.”

Obama still has two years in the White House. He can still show some muscle and bring about changes that are not only conducive to world peace but also to the domestic US population. Right after the mid-terms he wrote to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reaching out to the Iranian spiritual leader to join hands against the ISIS scourge. He also declared that he’ll go solo on immigration reforms and enact executive legislation in case he doesn’t get support from the Congress. These steps may be an indication of the fact that the president finally means business and that he won’t be pushed around anymore. Obama needs to man up and prove that he is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.