WASHINGTON (AFP) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Not even President Barack Obama’s sworn political foes would dispute his claims to have forged sweeping political change — their cries for repeal of his historic new laws are proof of that.
But Obama, despite adding a new one last week that reshaped regulation of the post-crisis finance industry, has garnered little political reward for fulfilling campaign promises like enacting health care reform.
And the hope he whipped up among voters in the 2008 election has dissolved, as America’s trademark self-confidence stagnates while economic gloom takes its toll.
Questions about Obama’s leadership are growing, amid crushing unemployment, a grinding war in Afghanistan, and as fallout lingers from the country’s worst environmental disaster sparked by BP’s gushing oil well.
A flurry of polls in recent weeks have reignited fears among Democrats that their control of the House of Representatives and the Senate could be at risk in November’s mid-term polls.
Historically, a party lumbered with a president who has approval ratings below 50 percent suffers badly in congressional polls.
So recent US television network surveys sparked alarm among Democrats, as they showed Obama’s ratings between 44 and 50 percent support.
History often shows a delay between a president acting on his agenda and getting credit for it.
In the 1990s, Bill Clinton had to wait months before getting political payback for turning the economy around.
“It takes a long time for that message to seep through — especially when there is pain out there,” said Bruce Buchanan, a professor specializing in the presidency at the University of Texas.
The White House strategy has been aggressive, piling blame on the previous Republican administration for creating the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
“Too often, the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress. And that has very real consequences,” Obama said on Saturday.
Obama will make a big issue of the financial reform law he will sign on Wednesday, arguing it shows he is on the side of the hard-pressed American consumer — and Republicans who oppose it are in the pocket of big business.
Senior White House aides have already signaled they plan to make the reforms, intended to crack down on “shadowy” finance firms, an election issue.
“I think there is great currency in this,” said Obama’s close advisor David Axelrod.
“Someone once said that good government is good politics.”
Republicans, however, are narrowing the attack on Obama’s signature initiatives — a 787-billion-dollar stimulus plan, the health care reform law and the Wall Street bill.
They claim Obama has slowed the rebound by investing in old-fashioned “big government” policies and seek to turn Obama’s opposition to a state law in Arizona — which critics say exposes illegal immigrants to racial profiling — into a national political liability.
“We needed jobs, and they gave us a trillion-dollar boondoggle they call a stimulus,” said Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.
Republican attacks may be landing on potent political ground, given voter preoccupation with the still parlous state of the economy.
Unemployment still stands at 9.5 percent — and is higher in many areas — and market-linked pensions and home prices are still in the basement.
While the health care and Wall Street bills reform fundamental aspects of American life — many voters may also struggle to feel their impact.
It could be years before promised wider access to health care and some cost decreases become reality — should Obama lose a reelection bid, he may be out of the White House before most Americans feel the benefit.
Similarly, no one has yet felt the benefit of the Wall Street reform law — despite its provisions for better consumer protections from predatory behavior by banks and credit card firms.
Though many analysts are predicting a terrible time for Democrats in November, it is premature to write off the party already.
Republicans have yet to produce a message voters can rally around that is anything but “anti-Obama” — and the president, despite his problems, remains popular.
The impact of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement also remains uncertain. The group electrified the Republican grass roots, but may turn off independents.
“I do think things are starting to crystallize — but there is still time for things to happen,” said Buchanan.