Who is Barack Obama? I don't mean what is his personal history such as he wrote in his autobiography, but who is he as a person? The Audacity of Hope, Obama's second book, gave me many insights into this man who wanted to be president and was then engaged in a vicious dog-fight with Hillary Clinton for the party's nomination. His campaign was audacious. Beating Clinton was spectacular, and he followed that with his successful campaign against the formidable Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain.
During that election period, Obama established himself as a pragmatic visionary -- a person who was going to come to Washington to create an administration that would institute (in all capital letters) CHANGE. His experience in the Senate had taught him what needed to be changed. After eight years of George W. Bush, he would bring a different attitude to the White House, not just on issues such as winning wars overseas but also Washington's notorious cronyism.
For me and many other Americans, the large number who -- to the world's surprise -- elected the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama was the hoped for sensible person who would drag our foreign policy back to reality and, even more importantly, take the emergency measures necessary for American and its citizens to cope with the Great Recession that beset us in 2008. On January 20, 2009, the new president's inauguration address gave us a further sense of a breath of fresh air. Change was in the air. Barack Obama was the man of the hour -- and the next Hundred Days.
During the midterm elections, the brilliant candidate of 2008 disappeared. By his own seeming ineptness, Barack Obama lost the mandate he had been given by the electorate. About the election of 2010, Obama said in a press conference:
This is something that I think every president needs to go through, because you know, the responsibilities of this office are so enormous and so many people are depending on what we do, and in the rush of activity, sometimes we lose track of the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place. Now I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night. I'm sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons. But I do think that this is a growth process and an evolution.
But almost two years later, it doesn't seem like he really has learned "these lessons," as he called them. The White House remains clueless as to why their boss remains unconnected, usually having less than a 50-percent approval rating. The list of his accomplishments in the White House warrants higher approval (but that didn't register in the voters' booths in 2010, so why should it in 2012?).
One can observe now a strong effort to assert the Barack Obama image of the 2008 campaign, but it smells of calculation. Some of the media has suggested that the old Obama has re-emerged. I am not that impressed. The man of integrity and the capacity to institute CHANGE has had more than three years in the White House to show us what he is made of and what he can do as president.
His speeches remain brilliant, but I find him wanting:
He has not met the challenge of our high unemployment rate or the crisis of a large number of Americans losing or about to lose their homes, and therein their life savings. His weak legislation often relies on the banks or mortgage lenders voluntarily cooperating; we know from experience this doesn't work.
He has not addressed the phony rationale for our engagement in two wars, as he said he would. Instead he has been absorbed by the military/industrial complex and the CIA (and Homeland Security). The president seems to have adopted their mindset.
In short, in certain areas I find the Obama administration not unlike the previous Bush administration. The balance between terrorism and human rights, as expressed by the CIA, the Defense Department, and Homeland Security -- even the Justice Department -- under Bush hasn't changed that much under Obama's leadership. Human rights in an insecure world is not easy, but, in my view, the level of fear George Bush and Dick Cheney spread among Americans after 9/11 has not been redressed, not even been addressed.
I wonder, does the promise of change sit like a black crow upon the president's shoulder? Evidently not. But it surely sits on mine.