Obama is in trouble. Our very own Rhode Island candidate for Governor, Frank Caprio, has made national headlines by telling the once wildly popular president to take his endorsement and "shove it." The independents who once voted for Obama are now backing Republicans by a 14-point margin, according to a recent Politico/George Washington University poll. For those of my generation, it's a shocking revelation of just how quickly the tide can turn in the politics of our country.
The Democratic base seems to have come to terms with the fact that essentially every poll is predicting a devastating defeat come Nov. 2. And while the get-out-the-vote effort has continued, the closer Election Day comes, the more effort the Democrats have instead devoted to introspection and figuring out what went wrong.
The easy option is to blame the impending Democratic losses on the inevitable midterm slump, the intractable economy or Glenn Beck. Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," cleverly held the weekend directly before Election Day, seems to imply exactly that, despite his claims of non-partisanship. But while I do support Jon Stewart and his (expressed) cause, the fact of the matter is that the Obama administration may deserve the losses that are coming in November for not listening to the electorate that put him in office.
There are two directions that this argument could go from here: either Obama went against the wishes of the majority of the American people with the implementation of his "socialist agenda," or Obama has neglected the liberal base that brought him into office. The truth is that Obama has somehow managed to do both at the same time. How is this possible? By passing essentially hollow legislation (e.g. universal health care or banking regulation) — the very concept of which offends some, and lacks elements that are crucial for others (the public option and serious restrictions, respectively) — and then not convincing anyone that the bill was in their best interest. Obama failed to convince mainstream Americans why they should subsidize the health insurance for those without, and failed to convince his base that the bill was the best that the Democrat-controlled Congress could produce.
The main perception now seems to be that Obama does not care about the electorate. Even if what the left wants to believe about him is true — that his only crime is being too cerebral, being too much of a policy-maker and not enough of a politician — the fact of the matter is that he could have compensated for this weakness by altering the circle around him. Obama could easily have made up for the lack of populist and down-to-earth appeal by placing people in his administration who would sound the rallying cry for Main Street — someone like Howard Dean, who could match the soapbox populist fury now coming from the right.
Instead, upon taking office in the middle of an economic recession caused by Wall Street and the federal mortgage companies, he surrounded himself with people like Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff who made $16 million through investment banking and later joined the board of directors of Freddie Mac, the government-owned company at the root of the current crisis. His new National Security Advisor is none other than Thomas Donilon, who formerly worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and who lobbied for Fannie Mae during the time when lack of government oversight was allowing it to make millions while the crisis grew.
In interviews, Obama has tried to pass off his actions as getting "the policy right [rather] than trying to get the politics right." In his own words, "there is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular." Obama, in his typical well-spoken fashion, makes the "history will prove me right" approach sound noble. But the fact of the matter is the policy is the politics. Voters like to feel that the President's decisions represent their desires, rather than having legislation handed down to them from on high. And contrary to what the President seems to think, the opinion of the voters does matter. As a result of his own arrogance, Obama is now going to have a Republican Congress to deal with for at least the next two years, who will try to blockade any and all of his present and past initiatives, starting with health care reform and going onward.
Michelle Uhrick '11 is an international relations and economics concentrator from Connecticut. She can be contacted at michelle_uhrick [at] brown.edu.