President Obama: Four More Years?
IN DENVER four years ago, an inspiring presidential candidate announced that he would change America. Barack Obama promised to put aside partisan differences, restore hope to those without jobs, begin the process of saving the planet from global warming, and make America proud again.
Next week Mr Obama will address his fellow Democrats at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, with little of this hopeful agenda completed. Three million more Americans are out of work than four years ago, and the national debt is $5 trillion bigger. Partisan gridlock is worse than ever: health-care reform, a genuinely impressive achievement, has become a prime source of rancour. Businessfolk are split over whether he dislikes capitalism or is merely indifferent to it. His global-warming efforts have evaporated. America’s standing in the Muslim world is no higher than it was under George W. Bush, Iran remains dangerous, Russia and China are still prickly despite the promised resets, and the prison in Guantánamo remains open.
The defence of Mr Obama’s record comes down to one phrase: it could all have been a lot worse. He inherited an economy in free fall thanks to the banking crash and the fiscal profligacy that occurred under his predecessor; his stimulus measures and his saving of Detroit carmakers helped avert a second Depression; overall, he deserves decent if patchy grades on the economy (see article). Confronted by obstructionist Republicans in Congress, he did well to get anything through at all. Abroad he has sensibly recalibrated American foreign policy. And there have been individual triumphs, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden.
But this does not amount to a compelling case for re-election, in the view of either this paper or the American people. More than 60% of voters believe their country to be on the wrong track. Mr Obama’s approval ratings are well under 50%; almost two-thirds of voters are unimpressed (however harshly) by how he has handled the economy. Worn down by the difficulties of office, the great reformer has become a cautious man, surrounded by an insular group of advisers. The candidate who promised bold solutions to the country’s gravest problems turned into the president who failed even to back his own commission’s plans for cutting the deficit.