Dashed Hopes: How Obama Disappointed the World
As America’s first black president, Barack Obama electrified an entire nation. But now that the nation is in crisis, he seems unable to connect with the people. He wanted to change America and restore its reputation in the world. But now his opponents are dictating the country’s political course.
“I’m going to make history here as the first president to live tweet,” Obama said with an amused smile, as he walked up to a laptop adorned with the presidential seal. These were big words for a particularly insignificant event.
Obama has always managed to win over Americans with big words. He used big words to raise expectations and establish a mood of change in the 2008 presidential election campaign, when he inspired the country with his slogan “Yes, we can.”
When Barack Obama was elected almost three years ago, the country seemed intoxicated. The world allowed itself to be carried along by this wave of enthusiasm, and by its hopes for a new, more peaceful America. A crowd of 200,000 people came to hear him speak at the Victory Column in Berlin; Kenyans spent the entire election night dancing in front of their television sets; in Japan, the residents of a fishing village named Obama celebrated his victory; in Gaza, where hatred for America is normally the prevailing sentiment, there were exuberant parties; and in London, Madame Tussauds wax museum handed out free tickets.
Obama’s election was the self-affirmation of a nation that wanted to prove that the American dream was still alive. Not voting for Obama would have been cynical, timid and un-American.
The world also had high hopes for a changed America, a country that would be less militaristic than it was under his predecessor, George W. Bush, and one that would pursue smarter policies, both in dealing with the Islamic world and on issues of environmental protection and climate change.
This wasn’t just wishful thinking on the part of his voters or his foreign admirers. In fact, it consisted of tangible promises Obama had actually made. Again and again, he talked of uniting the country and even healing the planet.
And? Did he make good on those promises?
Obama’s approval ratings have plunged, with only 40 percent of Americans now saying they are satisfied with his performance. In April 2009, shortly after his inauguration, some 68 percent of Americans were still on Obama’s side.
All that remains of the great hopes Americans and the world had pinned on Obama, inspired by his stirring campaign speeches about change and renewal, is a battlefield of unsatisfactory and contradictory compromises. Obama, who just turned 50 and was once a symbol of youthful change, suddenly seems old and worn out, as gray as his hair has become.
The clash with the Tea Party has highlighted Obama’s shortcomings. His opponents have everything he seems to lack. They are loud, confident and uncompromising, sticking to their principles while he repeatedly hesitates and delays. In the US midterm elections, dozens of Tea Party candidates managed to get elected to Congress by capitalizing on the rage of people who Obama had failed to connect with.
Obama has ignored this rage. Was it “Obama’s original sin,” as commentator Frank Rich writes in New York Magazine, that he was too restrained and not angry enough? “By failing to address that populist anger, Obama gave his enemies the opening to co-opt it and turn it against him,” Rich writes. In doing so, he left behind an emotional vacuum that enabled the Tea Party to rise to prominence. In turn, the party created a political climate in which reasonable efforts became impossible.
Obamaland has turned into the Land of the Tea Party.
In this country there is no longer any hope of reconciliation and unity, which was once the biggest and most hopeful promise of his candidacy. Obama hasn’t healed the planet either — an admittedly ambitious goal. Nevertheless, many believed him, so much so that in October 2009, after he had been in office only nine months, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
At the time, he had promised to put an end to America’s loud-mouthed, arrogant, moral hubris. Obama, who in 2008 had called the Iraq War a “dumb war,” had come into office promising to reemphasize national interests and bring about a shift, away from a course shaped by American missionary zeal and toward one shaped by realpolitik. He wanted America to limit its involvement in foreign wars, withdraw from the Middle East and focus its energy on competing with rising economic powers China and India.
Seriously, if there is one nation on Earth that should be wary of a cult of personality, it’s Germany. And that is exactly what Obamamania was – a cult of personality.
Obama didn’t disappoint me – I expected him to be a historic failure.