As an impressionable, and perhaps naive 13-year-old kid with little direction, I was eager for a role model, a man that I could look up to, someone who made his mother proud. When Barack Obama jumped into the national scene in 2008, I knew immediately that he was just my kind of guy. He spent most of his life overcoming adversity, and I, a chubby kid more concerned about the results of the Super Bowl than those of Super Tuesday, had so much respect for him that I went out and bought The Audacity of Hope (even though I could only reach page 30). But with all my heart, I converted almost immediately to Obama’s “yes we can” optimism, believing that I myself could very well be an agent of change.
But as his presidency continued, on many issues, the president’s decisions have seemed more like the monotonous Washington political moves than promised radical changes, making his 2008 campaign slogan “Change We Can Believe In” begin to sound like the average political rhetoric of his Republican critics.
In order for President Obama to win back my support, and that of the very voters that put him in the White House four years ago, he needs to start by re-assessing not only his promises to the American people, but what it means to truly be the commander-in-chief, and act accordingly. He needs to fight harder to accomplish those goals that seemed unattainable during his first three years in office.
In addition to not raising the dividends tax on higher-income taxpayers nor instituting a cap-and-trade policy regarding global warming, President Obama has not fulfilled many of the promises he made on the campaign trail, including support for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. In a speech regarding national security at the White House on May, 21, 2009, Obama said, “The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.” However, on March 7, 2011, the president issued an executive order stating “that military detention of individuals at the U.S. Naval Camp, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba … continues to be carefully evaluated and justified.” In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently condemned the U.S for continuing to house prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, saying that the fact the prison was still open was in clear violation of international law.
The race for the Republican presidential nomination has been riddled with dishonesty and verbal attacks — from almost all candidates. The only candidate, Republican or Democrat, that stood out to me as honest was Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah. He campaigned as a moderate, speaking genuinely, often siding with the president on key issues, such as the war in Afghanistan and small tax increases for the wealthy. Not willing to talk trash about fellow candidates, or to adulterate small mishaps of his peers for his personal advantage, Huntsman seemed like not only one of the most honest candidates of my lifetime, but also one of the most electable.
One of the reasons why a candidate such as Gov. Huntsman was not able to tread water, leading eventually to his withdrawal from the race on Jan. 16, is the invention of the new political machine, the SuperPAC, which is a traditional political action committee, except without the restrictions of campaign finance laws or requiring the candidates’ approval for often negative adds. PACs have grown due to the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision stating that the government cannot set up a limit on how much an individual can donate to for “political purposes,” such as SuperPACs.
The money that the SuperPACs receive from donors is used to increase the appeal of individual candidates, often at the expense of others. For instance, before the Jan. 31 Florida primary, the pro-Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future aired 4,696 television spots, 99 percent of which were negative, according to Kanter Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.
In an unexpected move, President Obama did not criticize his Republican challengers’ actions, but rather condoned them. On Feb. 6, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced in a press briefing that the president approves of the pro-Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA Action, even allowing senior cabinet members to speak at committee events. In contrast to his new position, in his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama had said, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests ... they should be decided by the American people.”
When I heard on the news that the president had switched his stance on SuperPACs, I was not only surprised, but also disappointed. Although it is understandable that Obama wants to compete financially when it comes to re-election, he got elected because he himself campaigned on the notion that he would not play the petty political games, such as attacking other candidates on personal issues through PACs, that are all too frequent in the politics of today.
This November, voters, including high school seniors, who will vote for the first time, will have to make the choice whether or not to re-elect the man who inspired hope in a great many of us just four years ago. And who knows, maybe The Audacity of Hope will finally get off my bookshelf and back into my hand.
A version of this article first appeared in the Feb. 24, 2012 print edition of The Lowell.
Illustrations by Hoi Leung.