The disappointment of Barack Obama's supporters is palpable. He has gone from being a vessel for their greatest hopes into being a confirmation of their deepest fears about the American political system.
The excitement he generated was associated not with his gift for oratory or any platform plank but with the promise of longed-for fundamental change. What's more, the change seemed guaranteed. Anyone could see he would not be like other presidents. Merely electing him would undo age-old injustices.
So his election was a transcendent moment. And then we waited to see when the changes would come. But sadly, it thus far seems Obama's singular act of creativity was in winning election. He was what was new. He was the change. Since then, he has gone from defying Washington convention to embodying it. His rhetoric about a new way of doing business, higher standards, a creative vision for the future has proved to be just that: words. Business has been as usual. Values have been murky. Cash and special interests have remained king. And as for that bright shining future, we're still waiting.
Not only are we doing things the same old way, but the same old way doesn't seem to be working for the country as well as it once did.
In the past week I have had the chance to speak with three dyed-in-the-wool Democratic donors. One said to me, "The last set of jobless numbers was a game-changer." Another, a former senior government official, spent half an hour discussing with me why Republican candidate Mitt Romney might do a better job. His thesis? That Obama is an ineffective manager and a weak leader, so while Romney is a deeply flawed candidate, he might do better. Certainly, this former official believed, he would be a better manager.
Obama's "the private sector is doing fine" line on Friday, June 8, did not help. It was not, as some have suggested, a gaffe. It was a calculated misrepresentation. But it gave the impression that he was out of touch -- which in political terms is even worse than being a self-serving dissembler. It raised the specter that Obama might defy conventional wisdom and resemble not Jimmy Carter but rather George H.W. Bush as a once-popular successful manager of foreign policy who was seen as unable to help the average citizen deal with his or her problems. But it hardly matters. Carter, Bush 41 -- they were both one-term presidents.
What's more, the growing political concern over administration leaks on national security issues -- and newly launched Justice Department investigation into said leaks -- seems likely to grow into another problem for the president. Some of the details in several recent New York Times articles and books could only have come from senior officials on Obama's national security team (whether in the White House or elsewhere in the government). This made the president's huffy indignation over accusations associated with the leaks seem ridiculous. And remember, in Washington, it's never the crime that gets you; it's always the coverup. So that space, too, bears watching over the months before the election.