In their first budget projection, the White House expected the recession to end in the second quarter followed by a robust recovery. Their reasoning was that this how the economy had responded to other (but not all) deep recessions. The expectation was that they could pass a major spending bill, call it a stimulus, and take credit when the economy rebounded on its own. Since they expected the economy to recover on its own, the Obama administration quickly lost interest in ti, moving on to issues closer to the President's heart.
Obviously, the economy did not recover as hoped. While there was some growth in the 3rd quarter, it was very poor and mainly reflected unsustainable growth in government spending. Jobs often trail the rest of the economy and this time is expected to be particularly bad with unemployment continuing to rise into 2010.
The economy topped every poll of Americans' top concerns with health care much further down on the list. For Obama, health care was the top priority and the economy seemed to have fallen off of the list completely. Obama finally seems to have noticed this and managed to squeeze a jobs summit into his schedule for December. This is too little, too late.
George W. Bush left a huge deficit behind. Obama quickly turned it into a monstrous one. One school of economists led by Paul Krugman insisted that Obama couldn't spend enough and that the multiplier effect of government spending would allow all of this spending to pay for itself. The fact that no government has ever spent its way out of a major recession was dismissed on the grounds that these governments had not spent enough. This was just what Obama wanted to hear.
The rest of the country has not been listening to Krugman and the size of the deficit has become a political cause all its own. Even the normally pro-Obama Newsweek has an article on how the deficit threatens America's long-term place in the world. This promises to be a millstone around Obama's neck, slowing or stopping his pet projects. At some point he is going to have to raise taxes, cut spending, or both. His options are limited because of his many promises that tax increases would only hit the rich.
Obama's options on deficit reduction are almost non-existent. Even with rosy economic projections, his administration projected record deficits a decade into the future. With tax increases on most of the country off-limits and a party committed to additional spending, the only way to control the budget is to break major campaign promises - sure political suicide.
For years Afghanistan was the forgotten war. Several things happened to bring it back into focus. Obama himself made it a major part of his campaign. Now the war is Iraq is winding down and the Taliban have reformed. The result is a constant stream of bad news from Afghanistan.
As with the economy, Obama hoped to address Afghanistan early then move on to more important matters (to him). The war did not go away. When asked for more troops, he mulled over the request for months with an answer finally to be announced in December. The public and the Democrats in Congress no longer support the war. This could have been avoided if Obama had been giving it more attention and justifying American involvement. His chance to do that is probably gone. Winding down participation in the war leaves the Democratic Party open to charges of being weak on defense. Continuing it will drag down his approval rating just as Iraq dragged down Bush.
Health care reform was obviously Obama's top priority. His announced goal was to control costs before Medicare became unmanageable. The bills currently being considered will do almost nothing for this. Obama hoped to ram health care reform through Congress so fast that it would be passed before the Republicans could read the bill. Obviously, that didn't happen.
The health care debate is incredibly corrosive. Most of the country is not interested in it. They are worrying about jobs and the deficit. In contrast, both parties have spent most of their energy for the last five months doing nothing but debating health care. As a result, the country is sick of both parties. Back in July, someone high-up in the Democratic Party needed to put health care on hold and concentrate on the economy. Instead, jobs were placed on the back burner. Instead, health care is given such high priority that important votes are held on weekends.
The Democrats have convinced themselves that they lost Congress in 1994 because they failed to pass health care. As their polls drop now, they are certain that the only thing that will save them is the current health care legislation. In the meantime the rest of the country is screaming at them to stop wasting time on health care and fix the economy.
In the meantime, the Republican base is solidly against the current legislation forcing Congressional Republicans into reactive mode.
Obama counted on his popularity overseas to smooth relations. While he is still popular among the general world population, this has not translated into any achievements. He couldn't even get the Olympics. He went to China with a long list of topics and came back with pictures of the Great Wall. He has snubbed Britain, France, and Israel. Eastern Europe no longer trusts him. Japan has turned mildly hostile. The Russians have ignored his attempts at "resetting" relations. His attempts to repair relations with the Muslim world have not accomplished anything.
Possibly because he comes from a "Blame America first" background, his administration has also been silent on human rights. He was silent on the corrupt election in Iran and the protests that followed. He did not bring up human rights on his trip to China.
While Obama talks about nuclear disarmament, Iran and North Korea continue working on nuclear weapons.
Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize simply for not being Bush but his only hope for a successful foreign policy will be to act more like Bush. This is the one blunder that he still has a chance of turning around.