One Year Later: Has Obama Lived Up to the Promise?

What a difference a year makes. On Election Day 2008, a wave of euphoria swept round the world over the news that America had elected not just its first black president but also a transformational figure who, despite “the enormity of the task that lies ahead,” assured us that “all things are possible.”

Has Barack Obama lived up to the promise?

A look at the numbers suggests that the euphoria has begun to fade. In a recent Gallup survey of Obama’s third quarter in office, his average job approval rating was 53%, a sharp decline from a post-election high of 70%. A Pew Research Center poll found that the American public’s confidence in Obama to fix the economy dropped from 70% in April to 59% in October. And even “Saturday Night Live” has begun to lampoon him, boiling down his accomplishments so far in one episode to “jack” and “squat.”

Great Expectations

Part of the problem, explains Larry Berman, a University of California-Davis political scientist, is that Obama won by raising voters’ expectations to extraordinarily high levels. But because there’s a big difference between running for president, when it’s easy to promise all sorts of things, and actually governing, Obama has had to be more pragmatic than the far left wing of his party would like, moving slowly on issues such as the conflict in Afghanistan and immigration reform.

Independent voters who voted for President George W. Bush in 2004 and then Obama in 2008 are responding negatively to what Berman and other analysts describe as his desire to create an interventionist, or activist, government, particularly on issues like the economy and healthcare.

“They have a lot of questions. There’s no doubt he believes that taking on the healthcare battle is well worth it, but the cost has been very significant and has fueled an opposition movement whose impact is [still uncertain],” says Berman.