One year ago today, the nation’s capital was abuzz as thousands of supporters made a pilgrimage to witness the historic presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
As his first year in office draws to a close, the president’s honeymoon phase is over and his approval ratings have averaged 57 percent, according to Gallup. That’s a far cry from the excitement that heralded him into office.
Arturo Corso, a Gainesville attorney who attended Obama’s inauguration, said he thinks the public has been too quick to abandon their support for the new president in light of the many issues he inherited when he took office.
“I feel like President Obama is like a firefighter,” Corso said. “The entire country was on fire, and we called him and he’s put out the flames ... and is coming up with a plan to rebuild, and only a year has gone by.”
Corso said he is especially troubled by the close Massachusetts race to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy, who died in August of brain cancer.
Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown battled in a much closer race than many expected in the traditionally liberal state. At press time Tuesday night, news outlets were reporting that Brown had handed Coakley a stunning defeat, breaking U.S. Senate Democrats’ majority.
Many feel the Senate race, which will have a major effect on the national health care debate, is indicative of the president’s performance thus far.
“The people of Massachusetts don’t have the patience to see what the president can actually do. In fact, they’re ready to give the match back to the arsonist who got us in this problem to begin with,” said Corso of the Republican Party. “I don’t think that’s fair. In politics, the ship takes a long time to turn around and a year is just a hiccup.”
Jim Pilgrim, chairman of the Hall County Republican Party, called Obama’s first year in office “disastrous.”
Pilgrim thinks the president’s priorities were out of line.
“They’ve been working so hard on reforming our health care that the administration seems to have forgotten what’s happened to our country as far as jobs and the economy,” Pilgrim said. “That’s what they should have been working on. Just to throw money at it was a big mistake.”
Pilgrim said membership in the Hall County Republican Party has doubled over the last year since Obama took office.
“People are worried, people want to do something,” Pilgrim said. “They’re moving toward socialism, no doubt about it. It’s got to be stopped.”
Charles Bullock, the Richard Russell professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said the absence of political moderates has made Obama’s job much more difficult.
“It looks like both sides of the political spectrum are dissatisfied,” Bullock said.
With such strict party lines, it is difficult for Obama to strike compromises, which makes it more difficult for Democrats and Republicans to be satisfied.
“Everything increasingly is seen through a partisan lens,” Bullock said. “I’m afraid that what’s happening is that a number of our elected legislators are so focused on scoring points for their party that they may sometimes lose sight of what might actually be good for the nation. I think both parties are guilty of this.”
Douglas Young, a professor of political science and history at Gainesville State College, said Obama’s first term may be following the same path as Bill Clinton’s.
Clinton was elected in 1992 as a moderate Democrat who also tried to reform health care during his first term with a Democratic Congress, Young said. Two years after Clinton took office, Republicans won control of both the House and the Senate.
Young thinks the 2010 midterm election could swing heavily in Republican’s favor based on Obama’s first year.
“I think in his first year he has governed as an ultra-liberal,” Young said. “If President Obama does not start to govern more from the ideological center of the American political spectrum, I think there is a real possibility that the Republicans could take over both houses of Congress again through the midterm elections this fall.”