Barack Obama is taking a beating these days, from “America the Shrunken” to a president who “doesn't seem excited about all the possibilities for America.” And his “you hit singles” remark brought people back 35 years to Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech. Carter actually never used the world “malaise” in his speech that asked us “to join hands [and] commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit.” But his call for unified sacrifice didn’t go over any better in 1979 than Obama’s description of a diplomacy that seeks to “steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world." Such comments are deflating for those who prefer exceptionalism to alliances and robust bellicosity to quiet diplomacy.
While the president’s foes have defied him at every turn, his disappointed friends now give him too little credit for his accomplishments. I admit I miss the Obama who captivated a nation in 2008 by helping us imagine a country in which our economic wellbeing didn’t depend on destroying our environment, our values didn’t countenance torture, and our political discourse actually included dialogue – the Obama who literally embodied a nation ready to transcend black and white.
I wonder sometimes if I mistook his biography for vision, his oratory for leadership, the image for the man? I haven’t given up on Obama. But my belief in his – or anyone's – ability to transform Washington's culture is diminished, and so I will look elsewhere for the possibility of real change.