In 2008, like many young progressives, I supported President Obama with the fervor of the converted. He was so magnanimous in his support for all the right causes, so captivating with his prose, and so fresh in his perspective that I believed that his election would actually catalyze a new dawn in American politics, one of justified hope and substantiated change.
The jubilation of his 2008 election will forever live with me, like so many others in my generation. But for me, that memory will serve not as a reminder of the history we made that night -- but of the silly emotions of a naïve young man who didn't understand that hope and change required more than flowery prose and a winning smile.
Moments are rare in life that recreate themselves so perfectly, but when they do, they allow us to take stock of how the passing of time has altered our perspectives. As I had four years ago, I watched my Twitter feed and Facebook wall explode last night with unqualified praise for President Obama as he took his reelection stage. It should have felt like Déjà vu. And I wish I could have felt the euphoria of four years ago -- but I didn't. I couldn't.
Instead, I realize that I have little hope because there has been less change.
Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has expanded an aimless "war on terror" (although under a new name) to Pakistan and Yemen. Millions in those countries are haunted by the constant buzz of drones overhead threatening to strike them or their loved ones, which has perpetuated a climate of American hate, distrust and destruction.
At home, our economy continues to stagnate; its victims are so many of my peers who had also invested in "hope and change" four years ago, who cannot find meaningful work. Our civil liberties have never been as commuted -- the realities of living in a country where the president can freely order the murder of Americans on foreign soil. As a Muslim ethnic minority, I feel no more dignified, no more accepted as cops throughout the country have usurped my right to walk the streets freely without fearing unjustified interference. Inequality has accelerated, and the divide between the haves and have-nots in our country has never been starker.
Although he wielded again in his victory speech his twin sabers of "hope" and "change" -- they had dulled over these past four years -- wayward movement on so many of our country's most crucial issues, weak leadership and a stalling national discourse have deemed them -- and him -- wanting.
Don't get me wrong: I voted for Obama in 2012 as I had four years ago. I even wrote in support of his re-election. As a young, urban progressive, I had no other option.
But I have to say now what I've been holding in throughout his campaign, and what I think all of us have to admit: Obama was not the right choice -- he just wasn't the wrong one.
And that's a difficult pill to swallow.
Why? Because it exposes so much of the dissonance that we've been forced to ignore by the imperfect choice we've had to make over the past several months. A Romney presidency would have been an utter disaster for all of the reasons that made Obama's last four years a failure.
But averting disaster doesn't make victory out of failure.
And then there's the problem that we really like the idea of Obama. After all, he's a third culture kid -- the child of a Kenyan immigrant and raised in Hawaii. His story is so representative of the America we hope to leave our children: a post-racial, post-establishment utopia where any kid, no matter how crazy his name or his background, can be elected president.
We then excuse our dissonance and our want to like Obama by kidding ourselves that he has made good on at least some of his promises. But has he? Take healthcare, his prized accomplishment, for example: it's a watered-down reform that kowtows to the interests of healthcare lobbies before it provides meaningful, secure access to healthcare for our society's most desperate.
We also like to excuse his political blunders as the result of having had to pander to the right given the scepter of a reelection bid -- an excuse that's patently flawed given his famous argument that he'd rather have been a "really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."
So let's be clear, for progressives who care about peace, prosperity, civil liberties, and the future of our country, Obama's reelection last night was no victory. It was the rock we chose over the hard place.
And that should mean something for the way we approach our political future. Can Obama come through on the promises of four years ago? Maybe -- but not if we continue to brush his poor choices under the table because he's better than the alternative, or because they were "hard choices," or because we like the guy. This leader has perpetuated war, violated our civil liberties, deported more people from our shores than any other president before him, and the list of his failures goes on.
I wish I could celebrate like it was 2008. But the reality says otherwise, and it's time we came to terms with that if we want any hope for change.