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Voters beware

Christie Pesavento | Monday, August 31, 2009

Clever marketing methods can often mask the true quality or effectiveness of what is being sold. Case in point: infomercials. Every day, thousands of otherwise rational people are lured into purchasing products that they might not have bought under normal circumstances because of the employment of certain tried and true techniques by marketing professionals. Some products seem fairly useful (those green bags that prolong the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables). Some are obviously too good to be true (boost your metabolism, control your appetite, and shed body fat just by taking a pill!). Some sound intriguing until you realize how pointless they are (who could say no to a blender that can grind concrete into dust?). Some products are kind of silly (a blanket with sleeves comes to mind…). And some are just plain disturbing (the Tiddy Bear? Honestly?).

But what most infomercial products have in common is that despite how utterly fantastic they sound on television, they never quite live up to one’s hopes or expectations in real life.

Which brings me to our current state of affairs.

It might be hard to believe, but at the end of the school year last April, approximately 65 percent of Americans approved of President Obama’s performance. Today, that number is hovering around 50 percent, a full 15-point drop in only four months.

So, besides Michael Jackson’s untimely demise and the ever-enthralling Jon and Kate Gosselin separation saga, what happened this summer? Did Americans, who had just elected a man with the most liberal record in the U.S. Senate in a seemingly decisive denunciation of the conservative Bush administration, have a sudden change of heart?

This explanation is highly doubtful. Such a dramatic switch in political philosophy on a societal level cannot happen overnight; that kind of change would take decades, not months.

What is more likely is that a significant portion of the electorate, namely independents, has experienced a collective onset of voter’s remorse since the election. On Election Day, Obama carried independents by a margin of 21 points over John McCain. Today, 66 percent of independents now disapprove of Obama’s performance as president.

And who can blame them? In 2008, candidate Obama promised not only to overturn the principles of the previous administration, but to fundamentally alter our political discourse. He assured us that we would transcend petty partisan bickering that has dominated Washington as long as anyone can remember. “In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people,” Obama declared. “Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

On top of that, he deliberately distanced himself from the far left. His campaign set a tone of moderation and compromise, perhaps best summarized by this statement from his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:

“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America.”

In fact, Obama’s campaign promises included support for measures like tax cuts, earmark reduction, more troops in Afghanistan, offshore oil drilling, and merit pay for teachers, each of which are traditionally part of the conservative platform. This observation led former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan to conclude, “Barack Obama just ran the most successful moderate Republican presidential campaign since Dwight Eisenhower.”

Yet instead of the bipartisanship and civility candidate Obama promised, Americans are witnessing the same old partisanship and the same old tax-and-spend liberalism they supposedly rejected on Nov. 4, 2008. Obama continues to blame his predecessor for the state of the economy, months after ramming his $787 billion stimulus package through Congress. At a political rally in Virginia, the president had this to say: “I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess.” Apparently, Obama’s version of bipartisanship is more akin to the “my way or the highway” approach for which Bush received criticism.

Moreover, charges of un-Americanism and fear-mongering are becoming commonplace among members of Obama’s party, aimed at those rejecting the Democrats’ latest efforts to put healthcare in the hands of bureaucrats. While voters may have been willing to rally against the Bush administration, they were hardly ready to endorse the radical left-wing agenda embraced by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, as recent polls on presidential performance indicate.

Thus, many independents are now waking up to find that Obama’s campaign promises may have been too good to be true. Of course, unlike those of us who have become the unfortunate victims of infomercials, we cannot send the president back for a full refund. And instead of a mere $19.95 price tag (plus shipping and handling), the economic cost of the Obama presidency is in the trillions – yes, that’s trillions with a T- and counting.

The truth is that compelling rhetoric, complete with a vague yet powerful slogan and an inspiring messenger, says little about the quality of what is being sold, whether it be a consumer good or a presidential candidate. And the same warning still applies to both: voters beware.

Christie Pesavento is a senior and can be reached at cpesaven@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.