Obamarama: Four Years Later

31 August 2012

2008 will always be one of the most exciting years of my life. Barack Obama captured the imagination of millions of American voters and millions more around the world. He tantalised us with the prospect of an African-American ascending to the Presidency and wowed us on the campaign trail en route to claiming an emphatic victory over John McCain to become the President of the United States.

But as the President went from state to state, inspiring immense crowds with his soaring rhetoric, the country he sought to lead was delving further into crisis. Millions were losing their jobs in the worst downturn since the Depression, the healthcare system was on life-support and the international community widely derisive of the interventionist foreign policy of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

But most of us thought nothing of it; surely this super-human candidate could rectify all of these problems and bring both sides of the political divide together in doing so, all as promised during the campaign. We were talking about Barack Obama after all, the man who’d risen from a broken home and racial prejudice to become the most powerful man in the world.

I for one certainly got swept up in the Obamarama phenomenon. From buying hoards of campaign-related merchandise (enough to feature on ABC’s Collectors in 2010) to being lucky enough to attend the inauguration in January 2009, I was an Obama-devotee through and through. As I stood alongside a million other fans as Obama formally took office, I was confident he’d be a successful President.

Fast-forward to today. With less than three months until Election Day, the Obama record isn’t the rosy picture we all envisaged back in 2008. The world is still turbulent, the economic recovery has been sluggish at best and the partisan politics, especially in Congress, is as polarised as ever.

And as the campaign begins to heat up, numerous polls suggest that an enthusiasm gap has grown in favour of likely Republican voters; with much of the disparity made up from young voters, a key component of the famed “Obama coalition” in 2008. Suggestions for this lack of enthusiasm range from the sclerotic nature of the jobs market to a failure of Obama to follow through on the more liberal components of his agenda.

I’ve been asked repeatedly by my friends how I feel about the Obama Presidency. Were we too optimistic? Has he been a failure? Will Romney knock him out? And whilst I’ve got my own feelings, they ultimately matter little since I can’t vote on 6 November. So I thought it appropriate to ask my American friends, those who I’d celebrated the Inauguration with back in 2009, how they feel as Obama prepares to face the public’s vote.

“He may not have been able to complete a lot of the things he promised, but who can when given such a huge mess?” said Joey, a 20-year old psychology student from Los Angeles. This was the pervading mood amongst these Obama ’08 supporters, a sense of unfinished business from the depths of the Bush era. For the cynics, implicit in statements like Joey’s and those of my other friends, is the concession that after all, Obama is a human being like the rest of us. He’s facing the limitations of having to deal with people of all motivations and persuasions, many of whom who would like to see him out of office.

On the economic front my friends’ support has held firm but some want more definitive action to improve the jobs market. Dan, a 20 year-old journalism student from Boston, wants more funding for transportation, an area the USA has fallen “heavily behind” in. Despite the solid but not emphatic support for Obama’s economic record, there is more emphatic support for his efforts overseas. Collin, a political science student from Annapolis who voted for McCain in 2008 commended Obama’s foreign policy for attempting to “restore American prominence and responsibility in the world.”

But not everyone is wholly supportive of the means Obama has used to implement his foreign policy. Tori, a 20 year-old media student from Sacramento is critical of the President’s use of drones whilst acknowledging their effectiveness; she still plans to vote for the incumbent in November.

So whilst they may be generally supportive of Obama’s performance in office, what do they make of his contender, Mitt Romney? The single-line answers I got from my friends are telling; “boring, dry”, “flipflopper”, “in it for himself” and most cogently from Tori, “greedy asshat”. If there’s one thing that Americans expect from their presidents, no matter the party, it’s figures of strong character to act in the broad interests of the people.

Some may be disheartened by the state of Obama’s Presidency, others steeled with resolve. I for one can see where he’s fallen short; not pursuing the pro-recovery policies for the economy above his politically divisive healthcare reform agenda, and for resorting to some of the negative tactics he derided in 2008 to attack Romney’s record.

But the magic of 2008 still lives on for me, the hope and the optimism that we could be better. I guess we’ll find out on 6 November whether enough people still feel it, and vote to re-elect Barack Obama to finish the job he begun four years ago.

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