As President Obama delivers his first State of the Union Address this week, it almost feels as though he already has several under his belt. 2009 was a tumultuous year in America; certainly a difficult year for any president to handle, let alone a president with no prior executive experience. It’s hard to believe it was just one year ago that Barack Obama swept into office on the wave of hope and change. What a difference a year makes.
One year into his term, Obama has the lowest approval rating of any president since pollsters began asking Americans. According to the Gallup poll, 47% of Americans disapprove of Obama’s actions thus far. In a way, such a number reflects Obama’s overall strategy: if you play big, you’ll either win big or lose big. And in the last year, the Obama administration has tackled a broad array of issues. But his overreaching is reflected in the disapproval by close to a majority of Americans.
When historians look back on the Obama administration, they will observe that healthcare was the dominate issue of his first year in office. His ambitious plan to socialize the nation’s healthcare system was flatly rejected by his constituents. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 46% of Americans disapprove of the president’s healthcare plan. But instead of conceding that Americans needed to be persuaded about healthcare and led towards his agenda, Obama and his cohorts in Congress bullishly forced healthcare reform on a resistant public.
The key to good leadership is learning from your mistakes and changing course when necessary. For an American president, it is crucial to lead a fiercely independent people by striking the right balance of humble observation and strong direction. It’s a balance that Barack Obama hasn’t achieved, as he continues to push his agenda, heedless of America’s unwillingness to follow his socialist path.
With the victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, political prognosticators are predicting another 1994-type victory for Republicans this November. Sixteen years ago, it was another ambitious young Democrat who swept into power and immediately began implementing his plan for nationalized healthcare. But President Bill Clinton, while a man who frequently indulged his ego, was at least wise enough to understand when he was chastened by the people for pushing his agenda too hard and quickly. The Clintons’ HillaryCare led to the historic Republican takeover of Congress, thus establishing some balance against an administration perceived as having too much leeway.
Upon announcing his retirement from Congress this week, Arkansas Democrat Marion Berry reported that the White House seems to believe that history will not be repeated in 2010. “They just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’ We’re going to see how much difference that makes now.”
Berry was just the latest in a string of Democrat retirements, a foreboding trend ahead of expected electoral-forced retirements for incumbents. These Democrats are wise enough to recognize the growing ire amongst Americans. But apparently the leader of the Democratic Party isn’t seeing or hearing the same things as his fellow elected officials. Endangered incumbents probably won’t place much faith in the “big difference” of having Obama when he was completely ineffective in helping his party retain Ted Kennedy’s Democratic-birthright seat.
The mere fact that Obama believes he can single-handedly save his party from a disastrous midterm election defeat indicates an overindulged ego. Such an inflated view of one’s power and ability is not the kind of leadership that has served leaders well throughout history. And it certainly won’t draw the American people to his agenda. If Obama doesn’t find that right balance of humility and strength fast, 2010 could be the new 1994.