Letter from America

Letter from America

November 5, 2009 23:02
3 minute read.

One year ago, Barack Obama saw a nation embrace his candidacy, elevating him from a one-term senator to holder of the country's most powerful office with such enthusiasm that both houses of Congress were carried along with him. This week it was clear that national spirit has been dampened. Almost all of the most-watched races went Republican, though there was a silver lining for Democrats in upstate New York. There the Conservative Party candidate for Congress pushed out a moderate Republican only to lose a long-time GOP seat to Democrats - a sign that the narrowing of the Republican party has consequences. As much as the White House argued that these results do not offer a verdict on Obama's performance, it was certainly a sign of an electoral shift. It was a particularly ominous one for the administration as the two highest-profile gubernatorial races took place in a Democratic stronghold - New Jersey - and Obama's backyard - Virginia. Obama campaigned heavily on behalf of John Corzine only to see him lose by five points to Chris Christie. And in Virginia, a feather in Obama's cap when he took it in 2008 and a southern state that Democrats have pointed to as a harbinger of their victorious future, GOP candidate Bob McDonnell won by a staggering 17 percentage points. "This off-year election was an indication of the 'buyers' remorse' felt by independent voters who have found the 'Hope and Change' mantra of 2008 to be lacking," charged Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks, referring to independents who brook heavily for Republicans in races such as Virginia and New Jersey and where the candidates "actively campaigned" for Jewish votes. Still, the notion that this election was a referendum on Obama, rather than the state of the economy or gridlock in Washington - or the personalities and records of the individual candidates - might be over-stating it. National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira Forman pointed to the New York race as a cautionary note for Republicans and also noted that Jewish support remains strong for Obama. A recent Gallup poll had shown Jewish voters give the president higher approval ratings (63 percent) than any other religious group in America. And while there are many in the American Jewish community who have expressed dissatisfaction with the administration, particularly its posture toward Israel, it's not clear whether they're ready to defect across the aisle. "One year after I voted for change I can believe in, I'm hearing language that makes me nervous," said Obama voter and Jewish activist Seth Cohen of Atlanta. "I'm hearing things that are fundamentally falling short of what I believe in." He mentioned the way that Obama has pressured Israel at the same time that he has made overtures to the Palestinians and Arab countries, explaining that he himself didn't object to the latter but rather to the contrast of having "pushed Israel, who's our ally, very hard." Still, the self-described "centrist" didn't say that in hindsight he should have voted differently. "I don't know if I fully regret my decision yet," Cohen said. "But I have lost confidence that I made the right decision." So disenchantment rather than repudiation might be a better assessment of where Obama has landed, which is still a far cry from his soaring popularity not long ago. His approval ratings are down to 51%, according to averaged polls, though typically the numbers drop as the president gets down to the difficult business of government. It also doesn't help that his biggest achievement so far is what didn't happen - a devastating economic depression. Though the Obama administration avoided a total financial meltdown and is now shepherding an economy that is growing rather than contracting, unemployment and other Main Street indicators are still poor. A self-reported Internet survey of 7,525 visitors of the Politico Web site didn't even yield high marks for the passage of the stimulus bill. Only 11% selected that as Obama's "best move in the year since he was elected." The given options of choosing Hillary Clinton as secretary of state (13%) fared better, while the selection of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice came in at 5%, just ahead of the 3% who picked his Cairo speech. The winner (aside from the 36% who said their answer wasn't offered): "taking out those pirates," at 28%, a reference to the US military's successful liquidation of Somali pirates who held an American captain hostage. Not on the list was his winning of the Nobel Prize, a sign of the aspirations his leadership represents rather than achievements produced to date. Americans now seem to be more interested in results than symbolism. Maybe that's why vanquishing the pirates did so well.

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