Little Hope for Change

Obama's hit the same post-election malaise as his predecessor.

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President Barack Obama is seen through the backstage curtains during his speech at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, Israel, Thursday, March 21, 2013.
President Barack Obama is seen through the backstage curtains during his speech Thursday at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, Israel.

Like flowers across much of the country this spring, bright spots seem to be few and far between these days. (Florida Gulf Coast University's inspired play has to be counted as one of them.)

Although unemployment has ticked down, housing prices have risen, and the stock market has soared, economic pessimism also grew this past month. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, only 25 percent of Americans "expect economic conditions to be better a year from now, while nearly a third (32 percent) say conditions will be worse." A plurality (41 percent) expects conditions to be the same—no change.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Along with this general decline in the public's economic outlook, President Obama's job approval rating has also fallen to 47 percet, which is "comparable to George W. Bush's (45 percet) at the same point early in his second term." The President's second term honeymoon appears to be over. But what New York Times analyst Nate Silver ("it is not clear what is causing the decline") doesn't seem to understand is that this was all perfectly predictable given Obama's re-election campaign.

Obama's approval mirrors Bush's approval because, like Bush, Obama ran a re-election campaign predicated on one message: "Be afraid: the other guy is much worse."

We were told by Bush in 2004 that then-Senator John Kerry (now, Secretary of State) didn't have the "right stuff" to combat terrorism and conduct two wars; we were told by Obama this time around that former Bain CEO and 2002 Olympics financial savior Mitt Romney didn't possess the "right heart" to foster an economic recovery for all. Both former Massachusetts officials were negatively framed as unprincipled politicians and untrustworthy individuals, wholly unsuitable for the presidency.

These campaigns motivated voters and spurred turnout by stoking a fear of the unknown throughout the electorate--for "change" doesn't always translate into change for the good. The 2012 elections affirmed the status quo.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

But November now seems like a distant memory. Americans are beginning to realize that while they chose the lesser of two evils, they're still not in a great situation. Fear has given way to disillusionment, and most know that with divided government and the next election more than a year away, they have little reason to hope for any change.

The moral of this story is that you get what you campaign on. By 2006, the public's disillusionment had turned to disgust and Bush had lost his Republican majorities in Congress. Looks like this pattern may well repeat itself in 2014. In other words, no change—except, of course, the majority party in the Senate.

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