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10 Oct, 2014 20:18

Democrats abandon unpopular Obama on eve of midterm elections

Democrats abandon unpopular Obama on eve of midterm elections

With his second and final term in office nearly half-way done, United States President Barack Obama, who enjoyed record popularity after first being elected in 2008, is struggling to keep up with the ratings of wildly unpopular predecessor George W. Bush.

Fallout isn’t unexpected during so-called “lame duck” sessions in which reelection is ruled out and campaigning for office is no longer as routine as conducting otherwise official business. However, President Obama finds himself unusually isolated as even members of his own party try to distance themselves from the leader, whose policies became extremely unpopular with the majority of Americans.

In recent weeks, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate, ex-cabinet officials and even former president Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, have raised objections about the administration’s policies. According to polling data provided by Gallup, Obama’s job approval rating for the week ending October 5 was 43 percent — merely a few points from the all-time low, 38 percent, recorded in September, and a far cry from his best of 69 percent at the start of his presidency in 2009.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush.(AFP Photo / Ronald Martinez)

Compared to his predecessor, Gallup’s statistics suggest Pres. Obama’s approval rating at this point is on par with how George W. Bush was perceived by the public at about the same time during that leader’s two-term stint in office. Both presidents’ approval ratings hovered closed to around 40 percent halfway through their respective second terms — or at a little more than 2,000 days in office — although Bush’s eight-year tenure ultimately ended with him leaving the White House in early 2009 with only one-third of Americans approving of his administration, according to Gallup.

But whereas Republicans largely stood by Bush Jr. even after the disastrous Iraq War and financial crisis of 2008, Democrats do not show the same level of support for their party's leader, even on the eve of mid-term elections.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democratic contender for position of Senate minority leader, spent “40 painful seconds,” the Washington Post reported this week, “…refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama” during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board on Thursday. There, the Post reported, Obama is more unpopular than anywhere else in the US — so much so that a candidate that described as being a “life-long Democrat, whose father represented Kentucky for the party in the state House and who herself has been on the ballot in the state on the Democratic ticket,” distanced herself from Obama.

U.S. Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.(Reuters / John Sommers II)

A number of the president’s policies surrounding current events with international implications — particularly the White House’s handling of the so-called Islamic State insurgency, immigration reform and a potential Ebola outbreak, to name a few — have been critiqued by both the left and right, but largely by opponents who have taken advantage of the seriousness of the issues to lampoon the president regardless of what action he recommends for the US. Even Democrats, however, have set their sights on Obama for one issue specifically lately, which is all too easily tied directly to the White House: the ongoing and ever-intensifying scandal surrounding the US Secret Service and a number of security lapses suffered during this administration.

With the Washington Post reporting this week that the 2012 Colombian prostitution scandal involving the president’s security detail extended behind the Secret Service and involved a White House volunteer, questions of a cover-up ordered from within the administration stand to make next month’s elections an uphill battle for any politician tied too close to Washington.

“Unlike some of the earlier incidents, where Republicans and Democrats joined together to criticize the Secret Service, the Cartagena case has the potential to provoke partisan clashes on Capitol Hill and create political problems for Obama,” reads an excerpt from a CBS News report published on Friday this week.

Reuters / Gary Cameron

With respect to international issues, the White House’s recent handling even spurred critique this month from Jimmy Carter, a former US president who, while known for advocating for peace, said this administration wrongly hesitated before finally beginning air strikes last month on the group calling itself the Islamic State.

“First of all, we waited too long. We let the Islamic State build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria,” Carter told the Star-Telegram of Fort Worth, Texas. “Then when [ISIS] moved into Iraq, the Sunni Muslims didn’t object to their being there and about a third of the territory in Iraq was abandoned.”

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.(Reuters / Eric Thayer )

Leon Panetta, the former secretary of defense under Pres. Obama, has also spoken up lately to condemn the administration in a book that has been considered to be largely “anti-Obama,” even if Panetta played a critical role in the president’s cabinet from 2009 through early last year as both Pentagon chief and CIA director.

In the aftermath of the publicity that has surrounded Panetta’s new book in recent days, National Journal writer Ron Fournier wrote that the former DOD chief has merely printed what other members of the Democratic Party have been scared to say.

"A senator. A House member. A former presidential campaign manager. An adviser to President Obama. All Democrats, these officials have made it a habit to call or email me almost every week of Obama's second term to share their concerns about the course of his presidency,” he wrote recently. "They ask only that I don't identify them. Some fear retribution; others don't want to compromise their financial or political standing inside their party. These Democrats speak admirably about the president's intellect, integrity, and intentions, but they question his leadership—an admittedly squishy term that can be unfairly deployed against people with the guts to lead. But their critiques are specific, consistent and credible—and they comport with what many other Democrats are telling other journalists, almost always, privately.

"Leon Panetta speaks for them now,” he opined.

Leon Panetta (AFP Photo / Thierry Charlier )

Cornel West, the acclaimed intellectual who previously supported Obama for president ahead of the 2008 election, has been adamant lately about speaking up against the current administration.

“The unprecedented historical symbolism of the first Black president has misled many if not most Black people to downplay his substantial neoliberal policies and elevate his [and his family’s] brilliant and charismatic presence,” West writes in a new book of his own. “The Obama presidency has been primarily a Wall Street presidency, drone presidency, mass surveillance presidency unwilling to concretely target the new Jim Crow, massive unemployment, and other forms of poor and Black social misery.”

A widening gap between the "haves and have nots" is but one of many contradictions between the rhetoric that inflamed enthusiasm of millions of voters who believed in "Hope" and "Change" and the reality of the Obama's governing. "The most transparent administration of all times," as was promised, turned out to be among the most hostile to journalists and whistleblowers to the extent that media organizations like the Associated Press had to openly criticize its stonewalling practices.

“[O]fficials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government,” the AP and other groups warned last November in a letter to the White House sent after wire photographers found themselves being increasingly barred from administration events.

Reuters / Erik Hildebrandt

An adamant critique of the Iraq War and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, President Obama made extrajudicial drone killings a signature mark of his administration. Unprecedented level of casualties, including civilians who were considered "collateral damage," has sparked anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world to new levels. Even Washington hawks had to admit that while George W. Bush's administration was trying to capture and debrief suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other secret prisons, the current administration preferred to avoid complications related to questionable interrogation tactics and has chosen a more straightforward way: killing the suspects.

But it doesn't mean that secret prisons ceased to exist. Even after signing an executive order to close the Gitmo in 2009, Obama hasn't taken any steps to actually shut down the facility since. Moreover, despite demands from the Afghan government, the US managed to keep it's even more secretive detention facility in Bagram, Afghanistan for years; although the venue has to be transferred to Afghan control by the end of 2014, its prisoners' fate is still unclear. Just like dozens of Gitmo detainees who were cleared for release years ago but remain in US custody indefinitely, they too might find themselves in some other secret prisons under command of the president who once campaigned for peace and promised to change the way the world sees America forever.