Many onetime believers say Obama has no stomach for a fight. But rather than give up hope, Jonathan Freedland writes that Obama does not have such a bad record and still has time to move away from his early mistakes.
Three years ago to the day, Barack Hussein Obama stood before a crowd shivering in the frigid January air and took the oath of office that made him the 44th president of the United States. By some estimates, there were two million people thronging the National Mall in Washington that day, a human carpet stretching to the steps of the Capitol, to witness a moment many – perhaps most – never believed they would see: the inauguration of America's first black president. When Aretha Franklin, in a splendid hat, sang My Country, 'tis of Thee, the air filled with hope that this would be a moment of healing – of the immediate, bruising past of the Bush years, but also of the long history of racial division in America. Hopes, in other words, that were almost impossibly high.
And these vaulted ambitions did not only apply to the vexed matter of race. Time magazine's cover featured a photo-montaged image merging Obama and Franklin Roosevelt, hailing "the New New Deal". There was a breathless expectation that Obama was poised to solve an economic crisis with a programme of investment and government activism that would not only put Americans back to work but rebuild the country, preparing it for a cleaner, greener future. And of course Obama would put aside the reckless, swaggering foreign policy of his predecessor, would reach out to the Muslim world and would doubtless replace discord with harmony across the globe. It was not just those who were there on that bright January morning who got caught up in the excitement of all this promise. Less than nine months later, the Nobel committee gave Obama its peace prize.
Now all that seems a long time ago. Conservative Americans, especially those who live in the Foxosphere, never believed the hype anyway. But since then, many of the one-time true believers, Democrats and liberals, have lost their faith in Obama. They believe his presidency has been a terrible, historic letdown; that he has not delivered on his promises; that instead of bringing radical change, he has provided more of the same; that he has been a weak, querulous presence in the White House, unwilling to make enemies, unwilling even to define himself or make clear what he stands for.