Three years ago, President Barack Obama burst on the scene with a stirring "Yes, We Can". Many of the American population, especially the youngsters, were galvanised into action, having been in some despair about the Bush years. They saw Obama's vision, they could feel the possibilities, they loved his speeches and jumped on to his bandwagon. The rest is history as he stormed the White House.
Today there is some talk of voters being 'disillusioned', of him lacking 'leadership', of the president being 'weak', of falling approval rates, and all such negative perceptions. But is that really the case, or did some people just expect too much of a mere mortal? More interesting, are we operating in entirely different times which need a different approach and reaction if any President is to be seen to be achieving anything of value? Worse still, can any future politician cut the mustard and please the people?
Look at the eight American Republican candidates just now. Most of come across as naive and mediocre as a slice of stale bread. Not a single one is capable of beating the President as they stand, despite his low ratings, because they are all partisan, sectarian, limited in vision and scope, naive about government on a large scale, ignorant of global economics and politics, and trying to serve two parties instead of one! They have not a hope in hell of winning anything, unless they can appeal to a BROAD church of the voters, and that is not likely to happen with some of their extreme views.
However, one cannot really blame them entirely, especially when they are seeking easy answers and are also blissfully unaware of the seven other hidden factors in operation, which even the pundits are not taking into account. These factors apply to all developed countries, not just America, but they would affect it most because of its competitive culture.
1. A Distinct Historical Shift
We have moved inexorably from an authoritarian society to an authoritative one, where everyone is now an expert on everything!! It means that power has been wrested from those who govern to the public at large, who are able to assess the situations for themselves and pronounce on them too. Everyone takes delight in fact checking and disproving everything! Gone are the days when governments could make cock-ups and hide them for years, or lie about policy and not be found out for ages.
For example, Britain was in desperate trouble immediately after the second world war, especially when America refused to help without a reciprocal gesture, and the country almost went bankrupt! Yet that was not revealed until 40 years later!! Today we know the economic state of the countries on a daily basis. Now governments are having to rule by consensus than by dictat because they really can't hide much anymore. Wikileaks has seen too that!
2. Wider access to Information
This has been the biggest and most influential change in the world of politics. The ready access to information by voters means that politicians can't make silly promises anymore and people can also gauge the progress, or lack of it, for themselves. The power of anything on the Internet to go viral immediately - and to stay there in a mocking way - has chastened many a politician, or even deprived them of their seats! Politicians now refuse to say anything spontaneous and tend just to resort to boring, or predictable, soundbytes so that they are seen to be saying the 'right' thing, but not necessarily the truth, or the most appropriate. The emphasis is now on form over substance and a genuine fear of saying the wrong thing. Moreover, people are not so easily taken in by false promises, or exaggeration, because they can check things for themselves.
3. The Effect of The Internet
Well, what can one say about this powerful medium that hasn't been said already, but it has singlehandedly changed the way we view politics, politicians and the whole campaigning process, especially with everything available in one place to view or interact with.
4. The Global Influence
This part is the least understood, yet is is growing more in influence day by day, thanks to the Internet. One only has to see what is happening in Europe and the euro to appreciate just how much countries control the fortunes of each other nowadays. No one country can exist by itself anymore, mainly because of the shared banking system and the increasing dependency on trade with others. So when Michele Bachmann, for instance, was trying to garner easy votes by promising the $2 gas, she was talking nonsense, because that is not possible in today's age to return to cheap gas unless one has one's own! Or unless she is going to hold up the suppliers at gunpoint and dictate to them what to charge!
5. The Power of Corporates
Corporates are now like little countries themselves: with jobs to protect, massive budgets to manage and goods to deliver. Their main motive is of course, profit. But many of them now get extra power through being community conscious and even interfering with government policies. It also means that they will strive to keep their market share and position by fair means or foul. Money is power for the big magnates and that also means political power for the politicians they back. There's no such thing as a 'free lunch' in this new world of corporate influence. Hence politicians will always be in hock, be obliged to give something in return for such largesse, which ultimately takes away their independence, rob them of the scope to act, and keep business as their priority instead of their voters.
6. The Complex Web of Vested Interests
Today's world has so many vested interests one only has to see what happens when a new Congressional or Parliamentary Act is in progress. The stakeholders come out in force to either try to block it or to give it support. Like the drinks lobby in Britain. A lot could be done about the awful binge drinking among youngsters, there but that would upset the powerful brewing industry, so lip service is continually paid by various governments in order to keep business happy, while our youngsters stumble along helplessly, increasingly blighted by alcohol.
7. Changing Social Values
This has been a dramatic change in that politicians are not treated with any deference or automatic respect any more. They have to earn their respect and attention. Furthermore, what used to be social priorities in the past: like community cohesion, the family, serving the nation, chivalry, integrity, the protection of women, character etc., are not at the forefront of our lives anymore. Our increasing independence, women now leading lives of their own without recourse to men, and, above all, politics being regarded as a cynical activity engaged in mainly by people who are hungry for power, has put paid to such values holding sway. Instead individualism is encouraged and people wait to be convinced by the emerging political hopefuls with big dreams and little awareness of the political reality.
The current negative perception of President Obama has stemmed from the rude awakening he has has as his vision of ideal government, in which 'change' can come easily, clashes violently with the partisan powerful reality leaving him helpless and adrift, at the mercy of a cynical opposition party with two heads. In fact, I would think that factors 5,6 and 7 have proved a baptism of fire for him.
In view of those factors, anyone thinking that they'll get better results from government just by changing politicians are in for a rude shock. NO politician can really deliver anymore because voters are not in the dark or naive about politics, and greater information have merely boosted expectations to well nigh impossible levels. Voters can also see a lot for themselves but, worst of all, they no longer have any respect for political office. And where there is no respect, there is no desire to listen or to learn.