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Obama's next moves: poll numbers are good but challenges remain
By Eric Ture Muhammad -Contributing Writer-
Updated Jan 19, 2011 - 12:38:32 AM

ATLANTA (FinalCall.com) - The inauguration of President Barack Obama two years ago set a record attendance for swearing-ins in Washington,D.C., and marked the commencement of the four-year term of the nation's first Black president.

Combined attendance numbers, television and Internet audiences made the inaugural one of the most observed events in history.

Compared throughout his campaign to civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Obama, originally campaigned under the slogan “Change We Can Believe In,” then later, “Change We Need.” He captured world attention as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was born in the 1960s and embodied youthful energy and a much needed transition from a time of economic despair, out of control foreign and domestic policies, wars in Iran and Afghanistan and a departure in the American psyche from his Republican predecessor George W. Bush. His call for change, eloquent speeches on race and campaign promises inspired more confidence in the possibility of change than any of his immediate predecessors.

Two years later and two months since the 2010 midterm election blowout, campaign promises for the most part have still gone unmet. A new Congress commenced Jan. 5 with a swollen, Republican majority in the House (63 new seats). A slower than expected economic recovery and job growth; and a health care bill that might face a constitutional battle in the U.S. Supreme Court this year now squarely sits on the shoulders of the much celebrated president.

The president has been savaged by the right, called a “tyrant,” had his citizenship challenged and been subjected to a tremendous number of death threats. In mid-term congressional elections, some members of his own party ran away from the once popular leader.

“This is still a time of great challenges for us to solve. We've got to grow jobs faster and forge a stronger, more competitive economy. We've got to shore up our budget, and bring down our deficits, We've got to keep our people safe, and see to it that the American Dream remains vibrant and alive for our children and grandchildren,” he said in his January 15 weekly address.

“No matter what Barack Obama says in his State of the Union Address later this month, it is clear where he is headed: ever rightward,” began Black Agenda Report executive director Glen Ford, who has been critical of the president.

“His appointments tell the tale. Obama also gave the game away—that he would govern from the center-right and attempt a grand consensus with the GOP—in the weeks before he was first sworn into office, January 20, 2009,” he said.

According to the editor of the online journal, the Obama appointments of Bill Clinton's Wall Street deregulation crowd to head economic policy and his retention of George W. Bush's secretary of defense to guard and expand the empire, should have signaled to every sober observer that Obama's political orientation might differ dramatically from his predecessor's in tone, but not in substance.

The problem was, there were very few sober Left political observers around two years ago, and nearly all Black folks were falling down drunk on “ ‘ObamaL'aid'—a brain-softening condition that persists among many, to this day,” said Mr. Ford.

Popularity vs. the anti-Obama chorus

Conventional political wisdom says the president must move to the right to have a chance at winning and his core constituents will simply go along with him.

“I really don't think that President Obama has anywhere to come back from because I don't think he's fallen,” said Dr. David Bositis, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Sure Mr. Obama's popularity has gone down, but that has more to do with political and economic trends than his performance and political personality, said Dr. Bositis.

People are dissatisfied about the economy, but have to remember President Obama does not control the economy, Dr. Bositis said. It is historically commonplace that when the economy is bad, the party in office takes the hit and is thrown out, he added. It happened in 2006 and 2008 with the Republicans, and in 2010, it happened to President Obama and the Democrats, Dr. Bositis continued.

“But he's by far the most popular person in the country. He's way more popular than the Republicans and his approval ratings are much higher than Ronald Reagan's and Bill Clinton's were at this point in their presidencies,” Dr. Bositis said.

According to analysts, the right wing media's constant negative portrayal of President Obama has contributed to the perception that he has lost or is losing support, but Dr. Bositis said the anti-Obama chorus is nothing new.

“Remember, it wasn't like 80 or 70 or 60 percent of the people in the country voted for President Obama in 2008. He got about 53 percent of the vote so a lot of the people who are loudest in their complaints about President Obama are people who never liked President Obama to begin with,” said Dr. Bositis.

Author and social commentator Dr. Michael Eric Dyson told The Final Call redemption and recovery for President Obama is always possible.

“I think that President Obama's brilliant speech in the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy reasserts his legitimacy as this nation's leader and also his rhetorical ability to unite the nation around fundamental principles of democracy and civility. And if people would offer him the opportunity to exert his leadership—and if on the other hand he would begin to even more boldly exercise his leadership right then—I think that those two things together would permit him to reassert his presidential persona,” Dr. Dyson said.

Productive sessions after ‘shellacking'

The president had said he looked forward to returning to Washington on the heels of “the anything but lame duck session” of Congress where he successfully negotiated an impressive slew of legislative victories late in the year. Analysts agreed there had not been such a productive session of outgoing congressmen since the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Mr. Obama is also riding a wave of popularity. The latest Gallup poll showed his job approval rating at 49 percent against 43 percent disapproval with near 7 percent undecided at Final Call presstime Jan. 17.

Pres. Obama called Nov. 2 mid-term elections a “shellacking” for himself and Democrats and faced major issues mired in a legislative stalemate.

Still the president worked out a compromise with Senate Republican leaders to extend Bush-era tax cuts for two more years, extend unemployment benefits for 13 months, and slightly reduce payroll taxes.

“The president and his team found a better approach to governing,” began CNN political analyst and former Clinton presidential aide David Gergen. “Instead of relying on the Democratic caucus in each chamber to deliver, they built up coalitions of their own that swayed public opinion in their direction and gave them leverage in Congress.”

The White House found ways to repeal of the “Don't ask, don't tell” policy that bans openly homosexual men and women from the military and get approval for a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

Both the House and Senate passed a bill to provide medial treatment and compensation to first responders in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York and both chambers agreed on a resolution authorizing government funding through March 4.

The president tried to tout the victories as signs Democrats and Republicans could work together.

In addition, the president signed a bill into law a $1.25 billion settlement for Black farmers who say they were discriminated against by the federal government when it came to loans and subsidies. About 30,000 Black farmers are eligible for the settlement.

Rhetoric and appeals to the American people

The president's eulogizing of six people who died in a Jan. 12 Tucson, Ariz., shooting spree that wounded 14 others—including Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords—and his upcoming Jan. 27 State of the Union Address were seen as opportunities to put forward a vision and win voters.

Though President Obama's numbers are reminiscent of former Presidents Ronald Reagan in 1983 and Bill Clinton in 1995, he is still very much in danger of being a one-term president.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W.H. Bush had significant popularity at midpoint but their second term aspirations fell miserably short.

Facing a divided Congress and polarized electorate, President Obama may return to previous themes of common ground, principled disagreement, dialogue, and compromise.

“What I think is especially interesting about this State of the Union is how similar it will likely be to his other ones,” said Dr. Kevin Coe, a mass media analyst at the University of Arizona.“Obama has made ‘bipartisan compromise' and ‘reaching across the aisle' hallmarks of his rhetoric so far,” he told The Final Call.

“The Republican gains make such rhetoric more relevant. Obama will, early on, make some kind of acknowledgement of the Republican gains, probably couched in the language of ‘change' that he's always used (because) people are ‘dissatisfied with the ways of Washington' and so on. His actual discussion of policy will probably sound a lot like before, highlighting opportunities for bipartisanship,” he concluded.

Craig R. Smith was a full-time speechwriter for President Gerald Ford and a consulting writer for George H. W. Bush. He told The Final Call, “The president will highlight those programs which appeal to a majority of Americans or to his needed constituency (minorities, independents, students, Democrats). Thus, the Dream Act, if not passed by then, will be trotted out in the State Of The Union address, and so will tax reform. The president must address the wars in which he is engaged. He will try to put the best face on them, to highlight where ‘progress' has been made.

“It will be interesting to see if the president lists a bunch of programs, kind of like Clinton's 51 programs in 51 minutes, or he focuses on four or five major initiatives in the domestic section of the speech. For example, he might try to answer the question: Which programs are likely to reduce unemployment? Since he has already reached out to Republicans on the tax issue, it looks as if he is embracing the Clinton strategy of going along with some Republican requests to get along with them, so he has a record of achievement to run on in 2012.”

“The president has tremendous leverage” coming into the second half of his term, said the National Urban League executive director Mark Morial. “Number one, he's got the experiences of the first two years. Number two, he has a strong base of support and goodwill that remains with him. And number three, he has the bully pulpit of the presidency and the veto pen of the presidency, which are both very powerful tools,” he said.

“In the intervening 24 months (since the inaugural), the Right has achieved a near-miraculous comeback, a reversal of fortune that could not have happened without considerable assistance from Mr. Obama,” argued Mr. Ford, of BlackAgendaReport.com. “By positioning his administration to the right of center from the very beginning, becoming more intimately identified with Wall Street bankers even than Bush, and waging relentless war on the Left half of his party, Obama reduced fellow Democrats to a state of demoralized confusion, leading to catastrophic defeat. Defeat, that is, for the party, but not for the president, who has at last arrived in his comfort zone,” he said.

(Charlene Muhammad contributed to this report.)

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