Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Saturday, 2 October 2010 12:00 UK

It's election time again for Obama

President Obama at election rally
President Obama must recapture his previous success for the mid-term elections

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Washington

As Barack Obama prepares for the challenge of the mid-term elections next month, Kevin Connolly considers whether the president is losing his magic touch, or whether the US political system means all presidents are doomed to fail.

President Obama was back on the road at a series of huge rallies across the United States doing what he does best - rallying the troops, steadying the ship, and cajoling the sceptical.

Crowds cheering President Obama
Obama's popularity has fallen despite the elation following his election

I think I may have got that habit of writing in triplets from listening to his speeches where he is fond of employing them to clarify, to explain and to persuade.

At his best he is an electrifying speaker.

The voice is still an instrument of beauty and flexibility even when it sounds a little tired, but somehow the folksy metaphors clunk these days when once they soared.

The American economy is a car for goodness' sake, and last time they were in power the Republicans drove it into a ditch.

He has just got it backed out and up on the road again, and now here they are demanding the keys back.

The crowds are still there, of course, but some of the magic and momentum that swept Obama to power in 2008 are largely gone.

He is not the first president to find that wielding power in this country is even harder than winning it.

Of all the possibilities that seemed likely on that glitteringly cold January morning when he was inaugurated, the one that very few seemed to consider was the simplest of all - that the man whose election represented an extraordinary break with the racial divisions of the past might turn out to be no more than an ordinary president.

'Too much' democracy?

Now less than two years into his first term - which of course may be his only term - he finds himself back on the campaign trail again, this time propping up Democratic Party candidates in the mid-term congressional elections.

I used to live in countries where there clearly was not enough democracy: communist Poland, for example, and the Soviet Union.

President Obama's inauguration
Obama has the job at a moment in history when it may be on the point of becoming impossible

Living in the United States is starting to make me wonder if it is not possible to have too much democracy.

The 2008 presidential election campaign lasted a whole year, even if you discount the schmoozing, skirmishing and spending that went on before that.

Within months of Mr Obama winning there was already talk of how his hands were tied on America's more intractable problems - like illegal immigration - by the mid-term elections which were already on the horizon.

Those elections have not even happened yet, and already this week I have seen two stories about candidates who may, or may not, be running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

This country's election cycles are starting to interlock and overlap.

Still, in the old days, once you were president your contract with the people was simple.

You were the architect of its future, the orchestrator of its mood and a permanent presence in the national living room.

It has never been easy, but Mr Obama has the job at a moment in history when it may be on the point of becoming impossible.

'Psychotic' media

Twenty-four-hour news is a magnet always tugging at the compass needle of the administration energy and attention.

The media is turning into a psychotic toddler that cannot rest until the obsession of the moment has been assuaged, and then cannot remember it five minutes later.

President Obama
President Obama has had a turbulent time in office

Every day this bruising spin cycle picks up the issue of the moment like a tornado ripping a barn up off the prairie.

It does not like to put it down again until it has drawn the president in for a comment.

That is fine when the issue is important like the BP oil spill.

It is ludicrous when, for example, it is a row over why a white police officer arrested a black professor of history in a frankly piddling incident that briefly obsessed the nation.

As the man who ran for office as no-drama Obama is supposed to have said, America wants a president who is good in a crisis until there is a crisis.

The rancorous way in which Washington works also makes government difficult.

The Republican minority has been obstructive and begrudging, probably more so than Democratic minorities were in the past.

Obscure procedural rules dating back to the days when senators used to arrive at Capitol Hill on horseback, are used to block the appointments of relatively minor officials.

Bipartisanship is a ghost from that vanished America where newspaper boys used to whistle show tunes and bartenders always knew your name.

But, it is more than that. The tide that swept Barack Obama to power has shifted and his touch has deserted him, at least for now.

It is likely that come next month he will find himself working with a Republican majority at least in the House of Representatives, and that will open questions about his own re-electability in 2012 - there you are, there I go now.

Oddly enough, that form of ideologically uncomfortable cohabitation often works.

Once you get over the built-in bias towards spiteful inertia it can provide a built-in bias towards centrism and pragmatism.

They will tell you that when Bill Clinton lost his democratic majority in the House in 1994, it was the making of his presidency.

Still, look out for Barack Obama working crowds, raising cash and denouncing opponents in those elegant triplets in the next few weeks.

Enforced cohabitation may be good for the soul, but any politician worth his salt will do anything to avoid it.


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