WASHINGTON - Five months before the American presidential elections, people are taking stock of what Barack Obama, the United States’ first African-American president, has accomplished since his historic election in 2008. Unfortunately for him, he’s not getting high marks at home or abroad. Indeed this week's cover story in top German news weekly Der Spiegel calls Obama’s presidency “failed.” What a shame, the German news magazine writes.
It's a fact that Obama might not be re-elected. Perhaps as a man near the center of the political spectrum he is unsuited to lead at a time that needs more than a radical touch. After all, his presidency began during the worst financial and economic crisis the US has known since the 1930s, but unlike Franklin Roosevelt he was no match for the situation.
Obama made an astonishing cardinal error by actually believing that he could rely on compromise to overcome the deep political divide in Washington. There was no way the Republican opposition was going to go along with that, which is why Obama, although he promised change and hope, finds himself after nearly four years in office facing a body politic that is frighteningly polarized and unable to compromise. And, of course, the political system is the weaker for it.
If the Republicans bear the brunt of responsibility, it’s fair to say that Obama didn’t properly size up the opposition and its extreme ambition. He didn’t really understand that, since Ronald Reagan, modern American conservatism has developed into an ideological movement prepared to use every means -- kosher or not -- to achieve its political goals. And it doesn’t help matters that in trying to find a way forward while fighting over deficits, a balanced budget and government debt, Obama was at several points prepared to relinquish historic achievements and principles of his own Democratic Party.
Along with wrongly gauging Republican motives, Obama showed a complete lack of leadership on health care reforms. Instead of overseeing them from the White House, he turned everything over to House Democrats and then had to watch as the Senate pulled the reforms apart until they were Tea Party fodder.
Obama alienated former supporters from the ideological left by pursuing many of George W. Bush’s policies on the war on terror, failing to keep his promise to close Guantanamo -- and by not abolishing the controversial broad executive power instituted by Bush. He let Latinos down over the issue of deportation of illegal immigrants. His wobbly stance on gay marriage turned homosexuals and lesbians off. And his flirtations with Wall Street were ineffectual: the plutocrats are streaming to the camp of Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent in the forthcoming election.
It’s entirely possible that Barack Obama practiced the politics of the possible in difficult times and saved the United States from far worse. But this cautious president didn’t bring about the change that the country so urgently needs.
Read the article in German.
Photo - Pete Souza/White House