One would think that the defining athlete of a generation confessing to cheating in his sport and lying to the public would come as a shock to society. One would think that the millions of children who wore his clothing, looked up to him as a hero and studied his ability to persevere would be crushed at his admission of guilt. And one would think that this story would permeate the hallways of school and the minds of America's youth. But one would be mistaken.
My generation has been programed to expect the worst from our heroes. Tiger, Weiner, A-Rod, Spitzer, Favre and Edwards all taught us that underneath that amazing golf swing, or that seemingly flawless head of hair, is the capacity to disappoint. And time and time again, we have been right to be suspicious.
So, why, last week, when I watched President Barack Obama deliver his inaugural address -- just days after Armstrong's admission -- did I trust him? Why did I believe that he would try his hardest to "remake our government... reform our schools... empower our citizens... respond to the threat of climate change... and to make these words... of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness real for every American"?
Honestly, I don't know.
Now, while "I don't know" is certainly not the most compelling thesis in the world (and is not one that could garner anything above a C+ on an English essay), my rational answers to that question just aren't satisfying. The President's "Politifact Promise Tracker" shows that he has kept 45% of his campaign promises, compromised on 24%, and broken 22% (with the rest either "in the works" or "not yet rated"). These are definitely not convincing numbers. Yes, the President followed through on implementing Healthcare Reform, passing a bill regulating Wall Street, repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell," signing the START treaty, rescuing the auto industry, killing Osama Bin Laden and ending the War in Iraq. But those achievements (the legislative ones, at least) were accomplished in his first two years in office, when both houses of congress were led by Democrats.
After 2010, the President's ability to pass legislation -- which, in his first two years, was mind-boggling -- was almost nonexistent. With people like Mitch McConnell, who famously claimed that "the single most important thing [Republicans in the Senate] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President" leading the way, Republicans stifled almost all of the President's attempts at getting legislation passed through congress.
Intellectually, I have no reason to expect that, with a House of Representatives still led by intransigent Republicans, President Obama will be any more successful legislatively than he was in the last two years. That leaves me, begrudgingly, forced to resort to emotion.
As a kid whose journalistic heroes include policy wonks like Ezra Klein, Chris Hayes, and Nate Silver, it kills me to make a claim based not on numbers but on observations (or, as Dick Morris, the man who projected Mitt Romney to win the presidency with 351 electoral votes would say, "my gut"). That said, in his inaugural address, the President did the most effective job of weaving together abstract ideals with concrete, legislative goals I have seen since his landmark "Yes, we can" speech. "Yes, we can to justice and equality... yes, we can to opportunity and prosperity... [and] yes, we can repair this world."
The goals he laid out in that speech, including ending "the outrage of unaffordable, unavailable health care," finishing "the job against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan" and fighting "genocide and disease," were universal. But as the President said that night, even though "all of the candidates in this race share these goals," the reason his "campaign has always been different is because it's not just about what [he] will do as President, it's also about what [we], the people who love this country, can do to change it."
Now, five years later, the President is once again reaching out to the citizens of America for help. Less than a week before his inauguration, the President announced a new political operation, Organizing for Action, whose goal is to bring together the thousands who worked on behalf of the President's two campaigns to support his legislative agenda. And, in perhaps the most transparent attempt at mobilizing his supporters, the President called for "we, the people" to act five separate times in his inaugural address, claiming that "You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course."
In spite of the perpetual state of disenchantment I've lived in as a 21st Century American, I believe him.