At the end of the second year of the Obama Presidency I increasingly believe his first term in office may very well be his last. I am hard pressed to find one single issue that the president has campaigned on where he can claim full victory. Health care? Afghanistan? The repeal of the Bush era marginal rates? Obama has compromised or abandoned his base in each campaign promise that helped catapult him into office.
Let's take a brief look at how the president finds himself with depressed public approval amongst the people he governs. For one, the president led many Democrats and progressives that he would fight for the public option for meaningful health reform. As Obamacare wound its way through Capitol Hill, the more people heard about the bill, the less they voiced their support for it. A measure billed to increase coverage for millions, reduce costs and not impact the deficit has failed to meet its own objectives. And, without a public option cherished by the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, many progressives wondered whether the Obamacare was better than passing nothing at all.
In the realm of foreign policy, the president vowed that he would fight the "good" war in Afghanistan while ending combat in Iraq. Nearly two years later, while Obama has declared combat to be over in Iraq, many Americans recognize that the tens of thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq are still engaged in combat operations. A matter of semantics for Mr. Obama, a matter of reality for those in harm's way on the ground in Iraq who find combat operations far from over.
In Afghanistan, the president sought to project a tough posture by vowing to take the fight to the enemy while also setting a timetable for American troops to leave the country beginning in July 2011. Yet speaking to American soldiers over the weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave the strong impression that America's brave men and women could remain in the fight in Afghanistan for years or even decades to come.
And most recently, with his decision last night to seek compromise with the G.O.P on taxes, the president may well have alienated his progressive base once and for all by extending all of the Bush era marginal rate cuts rather than allowing those for the wealthiest Americans to increase. The clamor from the Left and the progressives has been deafening; I appeared on The Ed Show last night on MSNBC and I can hardly think of a time where the host was more angry and agitated with the president.
Combined with Mr. Obama's continued decline in support from young people, women, independents and progressives, the mountain toward his reelection in 2012 becomes steeper yet. I've concluded that the problem with President Obama isn't so much what he says -- it is what he actually does when his back is to the wall. Standing up and fighting for principle is something we can all recognize and admire, even in defeat. Being perceived willing to compromise one's principles for political expediency is something that earns a president a credibility deficit the damage from which might be too great to overcome.
Ron Christie is Founder and CEO of Christie Strategies LLC, a full-service communications and issues management firm in Washington, D.C. A former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Christie is the author of the just published book, Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur (St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books).