Democrats Disgruntled as Obama Fails to Deliver
Analysis by Eli Clifton
WASHINGTON, 7 Oct
Since before taking office, U.S. President Barack Obama has been no stranger to being in the crosshairs of Republican pundits who have accused him of everything from bring a "secret communist" to a tax-and-spend liberal who would oversee huge expansions in the federal government.
But a growing voice of criticism here in Washington is Democrats who feel the president has failed to deliver on a large number of the campaign promises he made during the run-up to the November election.
This sentiment of disappointment and frustration with Obama's lack of progress on his agenda - topped by his seeming inability to build a consensus in his own party on healthcare reform, concern that he may be in the process of committing the U.S. to an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, and inaction on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and repealing the ban on gays in the military - was put on striking display on Saturday night when NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) led off with a satirical skit portraying Obama listing his two major accomplishments since taking office as "Jack and Squat".
The SNL skit came on the heels of last week's announcement that Chicago had lost its bid for the 2016 Olympics for which the president and first lady had made a last-minute trip to Copenhagen to personally lobby the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The IOC's decision to award the games to Rio de Janeiro left the administration with the political equivalent of egg on their faces.
Indeed the White House's seeming inability to accomplish its major public initiatives comes as a surprise to members of both parties as the Democrats have a majority in both the House and Senate and - at least in theory - should be in an ideal position to push an agenda of their choosing.
Obama's difficulties with building a coalition within his own party have come largely as a result of conservative Democrats, known as "Blue Dogs", whose election played a large part in building a Democratic majority in the House. However, the lack of progress from a president who ran with a campaign slogan of "Yes We Can" also casts serious doubts about the credibility of his critics who claim he is a radical reformer with a secret left-wing agenda.
"There are those on the right who are angry. They think that I'm turning this great country into something that resembles the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, but that's just not the case," said SNL actor Fred Armisen, as Obama. "When you look at my record it's very clear what I've done so far and that is - nothing. Nada. Almost one year and nothing to show for it."
While the list of accomplishments which SNL claims the president has failed to make progress on is - as has been pointed out by a number of fact-checking journalists - overstated, the number of initiatives on the administration's agenda which are "in progress" but haven't yielded discernible results is growing.
Frustration in Washington foreign policy circles has centered on the willingness with which the administration seems to be committing the U.S. to a long term involvement in Afghanistan - a country with a long history of repelling outside powers - and a failure to make measurable headway in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Foreign policy realists have largely agreed that an outright withdrawal from Afghanistan could be catastrophic and potentially destabilise an already chaotic region, but concern has been growing about the administration's "mission creep" in Afghanistan away from the original objectives of combating terrorism and denying al Qaeda safe haven.
Obama will be making a difficult decision - probably within the week - about how to respond to General Stanley McChrystal's request for 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
The decision facing the president is politically loaded. A decision to deploy the number of troops requested by McChrystal will garner attacks from within his own party that he is committing U.S. soldiers to an unwinnable war. And a decision to deploy a fewer number of troops than requested will undoubtedly bring cries from Republicans and Democratic Hawks accusing the president of not listening to his generals and denying the military the manpower and resources required to be victorious in Afghanistan.
Foreign policy heavyweight and noted realist Brett Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, sharply criticised the administration's strategy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict Tuesday.
"I think it's time for different role; the focus on settlements on the Israeli side and improving contacts on the Arab side, over-flight rights and so on, is going for the capillaries at a time when that cannot produce good results," he told The Washington Times. "I have felt for some time that the two sides are unlikely in the foreseeable future to be able on their own to make the compromises necessary."
Scowcroft advocates an alternative strategy in which the United States, Europe and Russia would table a plan to create a Palestinian state.
Part of the increasing frustration from the left seems to be with the lack of dramatic progress on policy initiatives from an administration that is nine months into a four-year term.
The important initiatives promised by Obama have included healthcare reform, closure of the Guantanamo bay prison, introduction of a cap and trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, and a repeal of the ban on gays in the military - but it is too early to say that the president has outright failed to deliver on these promises just yet.
Healthcare reform has been held up by interparty and partisan wrangling, the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison still seems likely but not on the timeframe originally promised; cap and trade legislation has been introduced in the Senate and there is hope that serious progress will be made on the bill - though a vote this year is doubtful - before the December Copenhagen Climate Conference; and a repeal of the ban on gays in the military is being "pushed down the road a little bit", according to Secretary of Defence Robert Gates in March.
Real accomplishments have been made with the removal of 1.75 billion dollars in funding to order seven more F-22 "Raptor" jet fighters - a follow through on Obama's commitment to end pork-barrel government contracts - and the administration appears to be making progress in changing the nature of the debate on environmental legislation.
The past two weeks have seen a wave of large public utilities and well known U.S. companies resign from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in opposition to the Chamber's efforts to block cap and trade legislation.
While progress may still be coming in a wide range of the president's policy initiatives, the slowness of serious movement on healthcare reform and difficulties in defining the U.S. mission in Afghanistan have become the chief domestic and foreign policy tests in which the president's supporters would like to see real progress.
The first year of the Obama presidency is far from over and the president's poll numbers remain high - an AP poll Tuesday found his job approval numbers at 56 percent - but a growing sense of unease has started to spread amongst his supporters that his persuasive and moving speeches might not be followed by successful policy initiatives.
Obama and his campaign managers were seen as running one of the most well-disciplined and carefully planned presidential campaigns in modern U.S. political history.
Unfortunately the discipline and coordination displayed by his near flawless campaign seem to have gone missing in recent months as supporters are left concerned that the candidate they supported - and who in many ways proved his capability as a bipartisan, "big tent" builder - seems increasingly unwilling or unable to overcome conflicts within his own party or pushback against a disorganised and increasingly marginal Republican opposition.
Armisen's satirical portrayal of Barack Obama may have been over the top in its depiction of him as a president who has accomplished nothing, but the skit spoke to the fears of Obama supporters that the charismatic candidate they helped elect might not be a cure-all for the increasingly difficult and intertwined domestic and foreign policy challenges facing the U.S.
"So all of you frothing Glenn Beck supporters, put away those tricorner hats and those Photoshop pictures of me as the Joker," said Armisen as Obama, "because if I see any more of this hateful rhetoric, I'm going to have to take drastic action... no, not really."