After a year, Obama’s presidency has fallen flat

By Alana Goodman

Like most Americans, I have little tolerance for films that drag on too long. Imagine Casablanca if it followed Captain Renault and Rick’s “beautiful friendship” for another three hours. Or Psycho, if audiences were forced to sit through 120 minutes of medical minutia about Norman Bates‘ recovery process. The best movies are the ones that know when its time to start scrolling the closing credits.

Which is why, if “The Barack Obama Story” was a Hollywood film, it would have ended a year ago. The thrilling climax of Obama’s meteoric rise concluded with the election last November – but unfortunately his presidency didn’t. It‘s as if the movie is still rolling, but half the audience is struggling just to stay awake.

How quickly things change. It was only last November, in the afterglow of the presidential election, when the cause célèbre in this country was the breathless debate over which iconic figure Obama most resembled. Time magazine led the way, comparing Obama to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in its Nov. 28, 2008 edition. Newsweek argued that he was more like Lincoln. Other publications claimed Obama was the new Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. This, before he even stepped foot across the White House threshold.

Even some of Obama’s detractors compared him to larger-than-life figures. Conservative blogs likened Obama to influential Communists like Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Karl Marx.

It was clear many Americans agreed on this: Our new President was destined for big things.

But this perception wasn’t rooted in reality. Like Paris Hilton is only famous for being famous, Obama is simply historic for being historic. There wasn’t a shred of evidence from his community-organizing career or brief stint as a U.S. Senator that Obama was ever a “unifier,” a “reformer,” or a notable statesman. The narrative of Obama as a political wave-maker who would shake up the old partisanship in Washington was nothing but pure fantasy manufactured in the mind of his campaign strategist David Axelrod and in the over-eager pages of Time magazine.

Obama‘s election and inauguration soon came to an end – and once the wind carried off all the streamers and balloons, America was left staring at its next president: a single-term senator with an unremarkable legislative history.

An ambitious presidential agenda soon followed, and then, slowly, the political speed bumps came. The economy continued to decline. Problems in Afghanistan grew worse. Obama’s support of universal health care reform, as well as his inability to get it through Congress, eroded his popularity across all parts of the political spectrum. He suffered the largest approval ratings drop between the second and third quarters of his term of any president since 1953, according to an October poll by Gallup. And any hope of a post-partisan era dawning in Washington quickly withered away.

The liberal media has sunk from comparing Obama to great leaders like Lincoln and MLK to comparing him to more mortal figures, like Bill Clinton – a president whose approval ratings also plummeted during his first year, but who still went on to win a second term. Clearly, Democrats have stopped holding their breath for an FDR-incarnate and are now just hoping Obama will keep his grip on to the White House three years down the line, as Clinton did.

As for Republicans, they no longer seem to find Obama worthy of Demagogue-status. They‘ve gone from comparing him to history‘s most powerful Communists to comparing him to an even less flattering “C” word – Jimmy Carter.

And while many Obama supporters advise Americans to “give him more time” to get his initiatives passed, it isn’t legislative failures that have marred his presidency. No amount of successful legislation can turn Obama into the president he promised to be last November. That man does not exist.

Obama the Candidate claimed his personal magnetism could unite the country, but over the past year we’ve seen him struggle just to unite his own party – especially on major issues like cap-and-trade, closing Guantanamo Bay and health care reform.

As a candidate, Obama promised to be a different kind of politician, one who would put an end to corruption in Washington. But, according to an Oct. 30 Associated Press article, lobbyist spending has hit a record high of $849 million. Meanwhile, Obama continues the sleazy practice of rewarding top Democratic donors with special White House access and other perks.

Also reeking of politics-as-usual is the administration’s constant partisan attacks. The White House has a grab-bag stuffed with sitting ducks – President George W. Bush, Fox News, tea partiers – that it seems to pull out whenever problems arise. Many of Obama‘s troubles (including ones that stem from his own decisions on Afghanistan and the financial bailout) have been conveniently blamed on his predecessor.

Obama may be a nice man, or a smart man – but a Great Man? He just doesn‘t have it in him. For all of the ambitious comparisons to Lincoln, FDR, and MLK, the real Obama is shaping up to be more like the Willy Loman of politics. The brilliant abilities he continues to attribute to himself have never actually materialized – and he’ll need to learn to live within his own limitations if he wants to keep the American audience in its seats until 2012.

Alana Goodman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]