Dreams of 2008 Obama's Lost Magic
Part 2: Obamaland Is No Longer United
Usually the president's team looks robust. It is filled with clever people who begin work at 6 in the morning and go home at 11 at night. But Obamaland is no longer the cohesive place it was during the presidential election, when everyone was united behind the same vision. Disappointed supporters are quitting, exhausted staff will leave after the midterms and the weak are being thrust aside. And when people talk about the mood in 2008, they sound like former classmates at a school reunion 20 years on: Remember when we were still young?
Obama has done little for African-Americans, and nothing for homosexuals. As a result he has lost voters on the left. It was inevitable, of course. Everyone who is elected in the US moves to the center when they come to office. But the fact that the president managed to lose the support of this middle ground too was a remarkable achievement.
It may well be that America can't simply walk out of Afghanistan, but nobody in the US understands this war any more. The conflict long ago ceased to be Bush's war, and is now Obama's. Worse still, it will inevitably end with an inglorious withdrawal. Why, then, should the US send in yet more troops? Why spend $100 billion a year waging war when train stations and schools back home are falling to pieces, and the money would be better spent on other American projects and research? Congress refuses to approve extra spending on renewing America: The money has already been spent.
Far from Perfect
When Obama came to office, the country craved perfection. His government is far from perfect, however. It's not even close.
But what is more appalling still, what is more shocking on so many levels, is the state of the nation -- the political stupidity of entire federal states and systems that seem hell-bent on self-destruction. Europe and the United States are much farther apart than many Europeans think. The US is different, completely and utterly different. Americans have a completely different understanding of social solidarity and the duties of the state.
Decades of prosperity have made the US a lethargic country. And in contrast to Europeans, whose lives and countries have been shaped by war, Americans are accustomed to feeling unique and invulnerable. They therefore react with near paranoia to a powerful China or a black president. Americans know they need change, yet they fear change. Such attitudes may be called schizophrenic. They're certainly a recipe for hysteria.
Hate-Mongers and Gun Freaks
The older, conservative German demonstrators who have recently been taking to the streets to protest against the controversial "Stuttgart 21" railway station project are the product of demographic change and their own fears. But the German protesters look absolutely harmless compared to America's hate-mongers, gun freaks and Tea Party demagogues who first compare Obama to Hitler and then minutes later to Stalin. They are people so filled with vitriol they can no longer think straight -- people like television presenter Glenn Beck, who says that putting the common good first is "exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany." Beck has millions of followers, and appears in public with former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, the darling of the Tea Party movement, who gleefully pronounces Obama's middle name Hussein as if it were a naughty, menacing word. Just two years ago, such things would have been taboo, and considered below-the-belt by Republicans.
This is the new atmosphere in America, and it is reflected in the Senate and the House of Representatives, two self-confident bodies populated by two political parties that eagerly take turns holding the reins of power. They paralyze themselves with rules that demand unattainable majorities for everything that is important. And even the Constitution irrevocably decrees that a senator from sparsely-populated Alaska has the same rights as a senator from New York.
The German media alternate on a daily basis between talking about "Obama's victory" and calling him a "loser." But often neither view is accurate, because the president has little or no influence over much of what is done, or not done, in the US and its 50 federal states.
Cries of Hate
Of course the American media is largely responsible for the impression people get of President Obama as well as the state of the nation as a whole. Fox News, Rupert Murdoch's TV news channel, has come to specialize in partisan mudslinging. Four of the potential future Republican presidential candidates are on Fox's payroll. The liberal channels are only different -- they are no longer any better. CNN has atrophied into a soapbox for journalist presenters. There is no analysis anymore on American TV, and little news -- only polemical attacks and shouting delivered in 90-second chunks.
Only the major newspapers still provide intelligent analysis, by people like the New York Times' insightful and levelheaded columnist David Brooks. Unfortunately, Obama's America is so polarized that the views of Brooks and his ilk are only read on the east and west coasts, and thus have little influence.
While the older, white hate mongers make loud noises, surveys show that the younger generation are generally satisfied with the direction their country is heading in. Or rather, they are indifferent, taking a benevolent view of the nice, pleasant adults, their nice, pleasant president and those wild stories about 2008. The haters, on the other hand, will go and vote in November.
Now they are calling Obama a "weakling." But that's not fair. Naturally Barack Obama reacts in a more mature, adult way than his predecessor, George W. Bush. The problem is simply that Obama is smaller than the promise he made, and tiny in comparison to the hopes an entire nation placed on him in 2008. There's one thing that Barack Obama failed to do. That was his real failure, the big mistake he made, back when everything seemed possible.
Barack Obama had a mandate. He promised to change America, change Washington and change the nation. He said that everyone would have to invest something and give something. He said that everyone would have to roll up their sleeves and work hard. Yet 69 million Americans still voted for him. Indeed, they elected him for precisely this reason.
Back then, Obama was like a high-school graduate who talked about wanting to sail around the globe, become a writer or a president. Instead, the dreamer started work as a trainee bank clerk. Now he has become a bank manager. It's certainly not a bad position, and he's doing rather well for himself. But every now and again he remembers who he once was and his dream about prolonging his youth. He knows it would have been difficult, but at least he could have given it a shot.
He did not find the courage to try.
Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt
- Part 1: Obama's Lost Magic
- Part 2: Obamaland Is No Longer United