A year ago, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American president of the United States on a promise that he would deliver “change you can believe in”, the slogan that together with his “yes we can” appeal, swept him into the White House. His supporters eagerly awaited actions that would transform America. How sorely disappointed many of them are today.
It is reflected in his poor approval ratings. Nearly half of all Americans say Obama is not delivering on his major campaign promises, and a narrow majority have just some or no confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country's future. Over a third see the president as falling short of their expectations, double the level registered in April.
Meanwhile, Democrats fear they could lose the normally safe Senate seat of Massachusetts today in an election to find a successor to the late Ted Kennedy. The liberal activist base seems to have given up the ghost in the wake of the failure to deliver on health care, Obama’s weak response to the economic crisis, his ramping up of the war in Afghanistan and the cop-out at Copenhagen.
On health care, the real winners are the powerful insurance companies. While 31 million Americans will now be entitled to cover, Obama was quick to abandon the public insurance option in search of a compromise in Congress. It wasn’t so much an example of “change we can believe in” but “the best we can hope for”.
With former Goldman Sachs executive Timothy Geithner installed as Treasury Secretary, the banks were never going to be made to pay for the financial crisis. The bail-outs begun under Bush continued at an accelerated rate under Obama and the big bonuses have returned, to the anger of many ordinary Americans. Now Obama says he wants the money back. He will have to whistle for it.
While Wall Street boomed, more in the year to October 2009, 2.8 homes were repossessed from people unable to pay their mortgages. More than one in six people in Florida are behind with payments. Although the official unemployment rate is 10%, when discouraged workers and part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs are included, the so-called "underemployment" rate was over 17% in October 2009.
At Copenhagen, Obama arrived at the last minute and patched up a meaningless form of words with China and a few other counties. They basically agreed to do nothing. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in a panel where he reiterated White House support for biotech crops and agro-fuels as a "green" solution to climate change against all evidence to the contrary.
Obama’s nomination for the Nobel Peace prize was embarrassing to say the least. Peace? Not in the Middle East. Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are razed to the ground on a daily basis by the Israelis and settlement building continues. Gaza remains blockaded. American financial support to Israel remains unchecked. No peace in Afghanistan either. Obama is a war president, sending another 30,000 troops to prop up the corrupt Karzai regime. In his Nobel acceptance speech, Obama talked of “just wars” to defend his actions.
The election of Obama was viewed by many as a last opportunity to breathe some life into the American political system, which is seen by many ordinary citizens as a plaything of lobbyists, bankers and corporations. A year later and the reality has hit home. For real, transformational change – not just to believe in but actually achieve – a new movement has to be built. It has to be independent of the capitalist state (which includes the Democratic Party) and seek to establish in practice the exercise of power by the people and for the people.