Barnard College's Monthly Magazine
by Sarah Lipkis
Optimism, a word that is not often associated with politics, was used consistently to describe the attitudes toward the 2008 campaign of our current President Barack Obama. The campaign focused prominently on the concept of change. President, then candidate Obama promised the American people that he would not be the same old politician in that that had become entrenched in Washington, but would bring about change recognizing the fact that Americans had become disillusioned, especially youth, with government. Mr. Obama promised that this time, the actors would be different and the negotiations would be real. He aroused in the American people this sense of change, inspiring his followers with the motto “Yes We Can”.
It seemed that in the beginning of his presidency, President Obama was doing well. He was liked by the American public, had a Democratic majority in both houses of the Congress, and his charismatic optimism suggested to both America and the rest of the world that, “Yes We Can”, and indeed change is coming. So then why is this vast optimism and hope of change that President Obama promised over the last few months been fading? It is evident that based on a national polling Obama’s approval rating has dropped to 48% in December 2011 (numbers based on Gallup polls:
This drop in numbers and overwhelming decline in popularity is a attributable to a multitude of factors. First, Obama HealthCare reform, passed back in 2010, had a popularity rating of about 38 percent popularity, and that number has not changed. The consensus among the American people appears to be that the HealthCare reform will end up costing more and provide less service to the public. A second lapse in optimism is the weak economy. Back in 2009, Mr. Obama passed the stimulus bill that was supposed to help invigorate the economy. However, this was not a long-term solution but rather a temporarily measure to prevent the economy from failing. A recent poll showed that, according to the Gallup polls, 57 percent of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the economy. This poll indicates that the President is not doing enough to create jobs or to mediate consumer confidence.
Furthermore, many people feel that the president is not doing enough about the American deficit. It should be noted that American credit rating, under the President, was downgraded by one of the leading credit agencies, Standard and Poor. The President has in fact asked for deep cuts of government spending and with the failure of the supercommittee, that was supposed to find places where spending could be cut in the Federal budget, has stated that he would veto any attempt to override the automatic cuts to the Defense budget. However, many people feel that this is measure is not enough. In all fairness to the President, when it comes to reducing the deficit it is not only the fault of the President but also of the Republican leaders in Congress as well. With regards to this issue, and other issues like it, there seems to be a lack of willigness for Republicans and Democrats to work together and reach a compromise just like it’s always been in American party politics.
All of these elements have contributed to a decrease in political optimism that can be seen all over the United States. This can be seen based on the current animosity that most American’s feel towards both Wall Street and the Federal government based on the fact that they did not do enough to help the quickly disintegrating middle class. In the last few weeks, with the failure of the supercommittee and the rise of Occupy Wall Street protests all over the United States, President Obama’s optimistic campaign motto, “Yes We Can”, has been seen as nothing more then a false promise. The American people saw the stimulus bill that helped to bail out the banks as a kind of betrayal in that it failed to help the American people that are currently suffering from the economic crises.
Again this resentment is clearly illustrated in the popularity of the Occupy protests, demanding that the government do more to help the American people instead of helping the banks who caused the crises. It also should be noted that less registered independent voters feel confident in the President as well as the fact that there is a steady rise in Conservatism throughout the country, this can especially been seen in the popularity of the Tea Party movement. This does not mean that the American people are losing optimism only with regards to the President but with politics in general, including the Congress. Unlike the Tea Party Movement, Occupy Wall Street, even though most protesters tend to be on the Liberal side, are unaffiliated with a political party.
Amongst the protests, and the American people in general there seems to be a decline in political optimism. Most people see the failure of members of Congress and the President to work together and get anything done that is beneficial for the American people. Lastly, with regards to Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign it appears that Mr. Obama’s slogan is not “Yes We Can” but rather “Change is…” this suggests that Mr. Obama is trying to make the argument that he brought about change during his years as president.
It is apparent that “political optimism” in the United States is increasingly oxymoronic and steadily decreasing. The faith in candidate Barack Obama’s charisma that was seen during the 2008 campaign, in retrospect, seems insincere and has contributed to the pessimistic attitude of the American public towards politics. However, whether this pessimism will have any effect of politics ability to change is questionable. This pessimism also contributes to the lack of enthusiasm for the 2012 presidential election. Unlike in 2008 where voters mobilized in large numbers, in 2012 there is a danger that voters’ disappointment due to the absence of political change will cause less eligible mobilize in the same numbers that did in 2008 for Mr. Obama. That is not say that voters will mobilize for the Republican Party either. Rather cynicism that people feel has lowered the publics interest in political participation through the normal means (voting, membership of a party, etc) and has begun to spur new forms of mobilization such as the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party in the hopes of creating a new sense of optimism.