You know you’re in trouble when someone like the Boston Globe‘s James Carroll has just about had it with you, albeit for mostly wrong reasons:
Obama’s slogan “Yes, we can” had come to seem both an acknowledgment of the difficult road ahead, and a savvy rebuttal to the “realists” who ruled out as impossible any actual progress toward peace, justice, or broad prosperity. Early on, the president defied the chorus of naysayers, especially as he pulled the economy back from the brink of catastrophe. His considerable success with health care reform will likely define the core of his legacy.
But six years on, in many important ways, Barack Obama has become a figure of American disappointment, with last week’s inexplicable failure to properly honor the trauma of France only a latest instance of mystifying solecism. Obama’s political and personal enemies never saw him as a force for good, yet by now even many of his once-passionate admirers admit to a profound disenchantment. The shattering of an illusion tied to a figure of such intelligence, deeply rooted liberal purpose, and evident public virtue necessarily involves a further — and perhaps dangerous — disillusionment with democratic will itself.
Obama’s problem, you see, is that the world just isn’t good enough for him. Plus, it stubbornly refuses to see the light this great and good man is trying to bring it:
The original sin generating the Middle East fury into which the hapless United States has been drawn is primordial European contempt for the “infidel,” whether Muslim or Jew, which morphed over centuries into racist colonialism and anti-Semitism — for both of which a day of reckoning has arrived. Europe stands indicted by its own history.
But as for Obama’s domestic challenge, the seething outrage of ongoing racial injustice that not even an African-American president can assuage puts the United States on the spot alone. What age-old hatred of Jews and Muslims is to Europe, slavery is to America — and no, it is not finished with, either.
Etc., blah blah blah. James Carroll is a very good writer who wrote one great novel, Mortal Friends, which is as good a book about the Boston Irish (my own people, as it happens) as anything. But what — especially after six years of malevolence and failure — is one to make of this?
the State of the Union address is the country’s ritual of rededication, and, by definition, the event basks in promise. Obama has already let the citizenry in on “little previews” of the issues he will take up, like cybersecurity and the expansion of community colleges, but the stakes are far larger than any single initiative he can propose. The president is clearly chastened, but so is the nation. Americans must not judge him as if responsibility — for the future as much as for the past — lies with him alone. He will invite us all to seize this moment to begin again, and we should. We still can.
Oscar Wilde famously said that second marriages were the triumph of hope over experience. So, for people like Carroll, has been the second term of Barack Hussein Obama.