As the 4th year of President Obama's first term begins, his supporters must be asking themselves "What happened?" Obama was supposed reverse the country's swing to the right and usher in a new period of Progressive government.
At first glance, Obama's resume looked perfect for this job. He had a far-left voting record and an activist background. His keynote speech in 2004 was the high point of the Democratic national convention. People regularly fainted at his campaign rallies just from being in the same space. He was the first Democrat in a generation to win more than 50% of the vote. Children sang to him in videos and celebrities pledged themselves to his cause. He came into office with large Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress. He modeled his cabinet on Lincoln's and his first 100 days on FDR.
Three years later his approval ratings are setting record lows. The country has moved to the right instead of the left. He lost his majority in the House and stands to lose the Senate in the next election.
How did this happen?
A closer look at Obama's resume shows that this was inevitable. He only had two years experience in Federal government when he began his run. He was the most junior member of the Senate. Even in Illinois he was known more for the number of times he voted "present" than for the legislation he introduced. He had no experience in the private sector and had never managed anything larger than his presidential campaign.
Obama was known as a great public speaker but that was based almost exclusively on his 2004 keynote speech. While well-received, none of his later speeches were memorable. Worse, it became obvious that he could not even give a decent speech without a teleprompter. Despite this, his response to every event seems to be to give a new speech.
With no executive experience and a highly partisan chief of staff, Obama outsourced all of his legislation to Congress.
From the beginning, Obama was sure that his path to immortality lay in passing health care reform. At the same time, he did not have the skills to make overcome the many special interest groups. Rather than tackling the main issue of the day - rising costs - he opted to push for health insurance reform. This was his major thrust for a year and it was a disaster. The expectation was that the legislation might be opposed at the beginning but once it began going into effect it would become popular. While that might be true, the biggest provisions will not take effect for two more years. In the meantime, it is, at best, divisive and, at worst, unpopular. Currently there is a 20% gap between those who want it repealed and those in favor.
The worst thing about the push for health care reform was how out of touch it made him appear. The country's top priorities were jobs and the economy but Obama only seemed to care about health care. Three years after taking office, unemployment remains high and drops in the unemployment index reflect people dropping out of the workforce rather than new jobs being created.
Obama's foreign policy has had some mild successes and many setbacks. His biggest successes have come from continuing Bush policies that he ran against.
Iraq is a success at the moment but the troops were recalled sooner than planned because the Iraqis refused to grant continued immunity to the troops. The surge in Afghanistan is not working well. Bin Laden was killed but the raid embarrassed Pakistan and accelerated the deterioration of our relationship with the Afghans.
Obama made overtures to Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. Relations with Russia continue to deteriorate. Iran is becoming increasingly belligerent. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is blaming the US for his cancer.
At a speech a few weeks ago Obama said that he had to keep from patting himself on the back over his support for Israel. Most others see him at the most hostile president to Israel since its inception.
Obama's support for the Arab Spring may bite him in the future. Currently the biggest beneficiaries have been anti-American Islamists.
Economically, the country continues an anemic recovery. If the economy should suddenly spring back to life then Obama stands a strong chance of reelection but this would need to happen in the next six months or less. Every day that passes without a strong recovery reduces Obama's chances of reelection. The Obama administration has exhausted its tools for promoting a recovery and there is still a chance that Europe will go into a recession and pull the rest of the world down with it.
With few accomplishments to run on, Obama plans on running against a do-nothing Congress. Accordingly he stopped making any attempts at running the country in favor of running for President.
During his August vacation his administration leaked that he would be proposing a new jobs bill. This was a campaign ploy. He gave a national address without naming specifics then took to the road with the call "Pass the bill!" before the bill ever reached Congress. His actual proposed legislation was never serious since it contained points that the Republicans could never pass. He poisoned the Super-Committee negotiations the same way - by threatening a veto of any resolution that did not include $1 trillion in new taxes on the rich.
The coming year will be nasty. Obama will continue to refuse to compromise with the Republicans in Congress in the hope that this will also tar the presidential nominee. His staff already admitted that their attack on Romney will be to make oblique references to his religion as "not being like the rest of us." With no popular accomplishments to run on, Obama has no choice but to run a negative campaign. No more hope and change, just mud.