When Barack Obama took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009, he had everything a president could dream of – a 70 percent approval rating, his party firmly in control of Congress and the media firmly in his back pocket. The economy was in a recession, and the country was willing to try anything to get out of it. His term was a blank canvas on which he could paint nearly anything.
Few presidents assume office with the stars aligned so perfectly. But somehow, he managed to squander it all.
His actions seemed to doom his chances right from the start. Rather than unite the country behind his agenda, President Obama insulated himself inside a bubble of extremist progressive advisors who’d had a wish list of radical policy proposals that had failed around the world.
There was no grand, inspirational push, not even any inspiring words about America itself. What we got was a scolding. We were unfair as a nation. We needed a “fundamental transformation.” American Exceptionalism was a thing of the past, a divisive force that needed to go into the trash in favor of the message of government salvation. “Yes, we can” became “No, you can’t. At least not without the help of government.”
His rhetoric never matched his actions. His political skill never matched the promise so many held for him. He never bothered to engage Republicans, and he didn’t do much to reach out to Democrats either.
There was no great vision, we soon learned. What we had was a remarkably hands-off executive who ceded the writing of his agenda to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He signed everything they put in front of him and didn’t seem to read any of it.
More importantly, he either didn’t notice or doesn’t care that none of it has had the promised benefits. Unemployment has fallen only because millions have been out of the workforce so long they no longer are counted as unemployed. His plan to revive the economy – which seems to revolve around printing enormous sums of fiat currency – was long ago outsourced to Chris Dodd, Barney Frank and the central bankers. And his health care program has produced nothing but a broken website, skyrocketing premiums and millions of Americans losing their coverage.
Thanks to a lazy, complicit media and a public that genuinely wants him or any president to succeed the president had remained relatively popular in the polls. The public simply didn’t associate him with his failures. But that all changed as Obamacare began to come on line.
The “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period,” lie has let a lot of air out of his media-inflated bubble. Unfortunately, reality crept into the public’s consciousness only after the 2012 election.
Now, a year into his second term, his credibility is completely gone.
There is no grand vision, no transformation of Americans as a people. There is only defense of his previous missteps and pandering to his base in hopes of holding it in line.
This means empty rhetoric about the “unfairness” of someone who works earning more than someone who doesn’t. It means talk of job creation is replaced by attempts to inspire jealousy of the “1 percent.”
It means, on the foreign front, “restoring the image of the United States” has given way to appeasement and dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to see any despot who will meet with him. It’s gotten so bad the Russians have had to go out of their way to create face-saving opportunities for us in Syria.
And, in his latest attempt to hold on to support of millennials, the president has ditched promises of jobs for young people and a better economic future and switched to passive support of marijuana legalization.
The grand vision literally has gone up in smoke.
Think what you will of legalization or decriminalization, but the notion it would occupy any president’s time during a period of economic stagnation, high unemployment and world turmoil just demonstrates how desperate this president is to hold on.
All presidents find themselves to be ordinary men in an extraordinary position when they take office. Most, though, tend to grow – both in rhetoric and ideas. They take on larger themes, express grander visions … even when they know those visions won’t be attained during their terms or even their lifetimes.
But President Obama has gone from big to small; from a grand vision of fundamental transformation to pot legalization. He’s shrunk in office and shrunk the office as a result.
Failure can inspire. It took Thomas Edison forever to create the light bulb. “I have not failed,” he would say. “I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” But failure also can cause people to recoil, to contract. President Obama’s life had had so much success – from exclusive private school to elite universities to professional grievance organizer to politics to the White House – with so little accomplishment that it’s not surprising his first failure, as president, has elicited this reaction.
The presidency can be acquired through charm and pretty speeches. But governing demands leadership, inspiration and more. And it’s just not happening right now at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As President Obama’s lame-duck administration limps to its conclusion, baring any cataclysmic event, he will slouch toward the finish line pay-off of book deals, paid speeches and corporate boards in an ever-shrinking manner.
The country will survive. The ideals of America are too great for any one man to completely ruin. But all of us will be smaller for having hired him.