A year ago today, millions of American’s decended on Washington to attend Barack Obama’s inaugauration. At the time, I wrote that:
Ever since he launched his candidacy nearly two years ago, Obama has been able to use well-crafted rhetoric to paper over contradictory signals, and his lack of executive experience created questions about how he would govern. Would he rule from the center or left? Is he a radical or a political pragmatist? Will he be a transformational liberal leader or a merely another Democratic president?
This morning, as President Obama awakes from a night of revelry with the entire nation rooting for him, the guessing game will be over, and the American people will begin to judge him on the decisions he makes, and the results.
And judge him they have. When he was sworn in, President Obama enjoyed an approval rating of 68 percent, according to Gallup, compared with a disapproval rating of merely 12 percent. But instead of uniting the country, Obama decided to use the economic crisis as an opportunity to push as many liberal initiatives as he could. He signed a $787 billion economic stimulus package that failed to keep unemployment under 10 percent, and attempted to ram through an overwhelmingly unpopular health care bill. In the end, the process descended into a series of backroom deals with the same special interest groups he pledged to fight, and hidden from the view of C-SPAN cameras he promised to let in the room. Taken together, these actions alienated independent voters, who supported Obama because they thought he would govern as a moderate and change the cynical ways of Washington. As of this writing, Obama’s Gallup approval rating has dropped to 50 percent, while his disapproval has surged to 43 percent. Thus, on a net basis, Obama’s rating has dropped 49 points in a year. And if that isn’t enough, just yesterday, a Republican was elected to fill the seat once held by Ted Kennedy in a state that voted for Obama over Sen. John McCain by 26 points.
So in a sense, the midterms came early for Obama. On the one-year anniversary of his presidency, he’ll have to decide whether he’ll continue on his current course, which will cause further erosion of support among independents and subject his party to further losses. Or, like President Clinton, decide to scale back his liberal agenda and attempt to govern as the moderate many Americans though they were electing.