When Barack Obama and Michelle walked down the street in Washington after his inauguration in 2009, waving to the jubilant crowds, he really did represent hope and change for America. He brought to a close the gloomy years of a George W. Bush presidency that was marred by futile and unpopular wars in the Middle East and rapidly decaying respect for the United States around the world.
More importantly, Obama was actually loved by people, drawing massive crowds of euphoric spectators wherever he went. For a moment in time, Barack Obama was truly the world's president, as much beloved as Nelson Mandela, speaking boldly of global brotherhood, but carrying the big stick that was the awesome economic and military might of the world's most powerful nation. His first inauguration ceremony was viewed by record audiences in the U.S. and abroad, and he entered office with an initial approval rating of 68%, equaling Dwight Eisenhower and second only to John Kennedy.
Then he showed up for work. One of his first official acts as the 44th President of the United States was to address the growing political partisanship in Washington by appointing an unprecedented three Republications to his new cabinet: He kept Bush's defense secretary Robert Gates; brought in former congressman Ray LaHood to head the Department of Transportation; and nominated New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg as commerce secretary. The first two took up their posts, but Gregg first accepted, then withdrew his nomination for reasons many suspected was politically motivated. For the Obama administration, it was all downhill from there.
The economic depression stubbornly refused to go away: jobless figures remained high, no matter what he did to stimulate business; wars in the Middle East dragged on; and the bitter partisanship atmosphere accelerated in Washington. Four years later, he nearly lost his bid for re-election after a single flubbed debate against rival Mitt Romney.
He finally won the White House again, but not with the same enthusiastic voter support he had enjoyed in his first election. The only notable accomplishment of his presidency, the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, became the target of fierce, unrelenting and bullheaded Republican attacks, culminating in a government shutdown. Upon the healthcare law's official launch, online enrollment was met with a hopelessly and stunningly broken website that is just now getting fixed. Obama was also forced to apologize for promising the American people that the new healthcare law would not force anyone to give up their insurance if they did not want to, because it did.
Say Say Say
Today, five years later and just a year into his second term in office, Obama already appears to be a lame duck president. Even his most ardent supporters have grown cooled in their expectations. The world has long since lost their enthusiasm for him. It is clear in his speeches that he no longer believes -- and maybe he doesn't even care about -- the words of hope he once uttered with such conviction. The bipartisan spirit he hoped to nurture during his administration has in fact led to Americans becoming completely disgusted with everyone in Washington. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Americans blaming both parties nearly equally for the stifling political stalemate that persists, with Obama suffering through record low approval ratings.
The Sun Will Come Out
All hope is not lost for Obama. The latest New York Times/CBS Poll shows his approval rating inching back up. The economy seems to be creaking forward, with jobless figures easing. Still, it is a joyless Obama who now seems to go through the motions of being president, without the sense that he believes anymore in his date with destiny. He was a man who seemed poised for greatness, who entered his job with the grace, energy and cocky sureness of Muhammad Ali in his prime. Today, he seems weary of the fight. It might be that Republicans robbed him of the opportunity to accomplish those great things, even as they decimated their own ranks and destroyed their credibility among the American people. Or it might be that he was never really the man we had hoped he would be.
Yet, he still has three years to go on the job, and three years is a long time in a man's life. Maybe he's not actually lowering his eyes in defeat, but steeling himself for the final round in public office. Maybe he's plotting the biggest comeback of his political career, preparing the knock-out punch that will save his legacy and allow him to leave the ring with his head held high.
We're still waiting. And we're still hoping.