America is so over Obama. In 2008, the media and a majority of the voters were head-over-heels in love with the man who told them that “yes, we can” overcome war and recession.
By 2012, the amour had cooled but they were willing to give four more years to the guy who was – if nothing else – way hotter than Mitt Romney.
But now it’s 2014 and the passion is totally gone. Obama is the withholding boyfriend who knows that he’s probably on the way out and is just sending the odd friendly text message from the golf course. If this relationship-breakdown metaphor seems a little strained consider this:Barack Obama is close to having played more rounds of golf since 2009 than Tiger Woods.
America would happily kick him to the curb, but he can’t run again in 2016 – so these midterm elections are the chance to send a message of complaint.
The Republicans won’t get a landslide (for reasons I’ll touch upon later), but if they do perform well then it’s worth noting that voters aren’t just being petty and spiteful to the President and his party. They have sound reasons to be angry about the Democrat record.
It’s true that unemployment has fallen to its lowest point since Obama took office, but that’s actually coincided with a collapse in his approval ratings: joblessness has dipped below 6 per cent, but 53 per cent of Americans think Obama is doing a bad job with the economy.
The reason? Quality of life is poor. Starting at the very bottom, poverty levels point to stagnation. In January 2009 the poverty rate stood at 14.3 per cent. It rose to around 15 per cent and then fell back down in 2013 to 14.5 per cent (but the actual number of those in poverty remained the same from 2012). Things are worse for black Americans, whose poverty rate has risen in that same period from 25.8 per cent to 27.2 per cent.
Not everyone’s doing badly, of course. The richest 10 per cent are the only group – the only group! – who saw their median income rise from 2010-2013. As the Washington Times points out, that’s the same period in which Barack Robin Hood Obama won re-election painting the GOP as corporate vampires. The richest people have seen their share of taxes decline quite dramatically under this “socialist” president – while, interestingly, the share of federal income tax paid by the middle class has, according to the IRS, slightly risen.
Now, it’s true that the Obama administration deserves plaudits for extending tax relief to middle-class Americans. But that’s been shaped by political and economic reality. Politically, his natural instinct for raising taxes – such as the significant charges that Obamacare will levy – has been curtailed by dealing with a Republican Congress: in fact, since 2009 one think tanks says that he has proposed no less than 442 tax increases. Economically, any assistance that has been passed onto the voters is a reflection of the parlous state of their personal finances. According to the Federal Reserve, middle-class incomes stagnated from 2010-2013 while incomes at the bottom end of the scale continued to fall. Yet its latest finances survey discovered a fascinating anomaly: mean income is up while median income is down. The explanation is that while most Americans’ financial performance remains weak, the very rich are doing splendidly. The scale of inequality of appalling: “The wealth share of the top 3 percent climbed from 44.8 percent in 1989 to 51.8 percent in 2007 and 54.4 percent in 2013. … The share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33.2 percent in 1989 to 24.7 percent in 2013.”
Finally, even the much praised unemployment rates can be misleading. While the number seeking work might be falling, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve found some. In January 2009, the labour force participation rate was 65.7 per cent; today it is 62.7 per cent. In other words, a lot of Americans have simply withdrawn from the labour market.
In short, the middle class has good reasons to be frustrated with Obamanomics – especially given that the President has so often claimed to be on the side of the little man but has largely operated to the benefit of the super rich. In fact, I wouldn’t blame Mitt Romney if he secretly cast a ballot for Obama in 2012. Add to that the administration’s quixotic handling of the Ebola crisis or its vacillating Middle East policy and you get the sense of a regime that has largely given up. Not that it was particularly “engaged” in the beginning. Barack Obama was elected in 2008 less on the back of a programme than a personality. He embodied rather than articulated change. As such, his election did mark a revolution in American race relations but it did not represent a serious effort at governmental reform. With the notable – and controversial – exceptions of Obamacare and gay marriage (the latter led entirely by the courts and not the administration), liberals should be asking themselves what Obama has ever done for them. Conservatives will be asking what he’s done to the economy, having over-regulated and over-spent to little obvious advantage. I’m not so sure we can call the Obama administration liberal rather than just chaotic and vain.
All of which ought to mean that the Republicans triumph handsomely next week. But rarely has a Democrat so benefited from the weakness of his opposition. The Republican establishment looks tired, the Tea Party has gone quiet because the GOP is playing it safe. The energy of 2010, which gave the Republicans control of the House, has gone. Mediocrity abounds, while the President hunkers down in that golf course bunker.