To win the White House, President-elect Barack Obama seized on two simple words that summed up what he meant to voters and the world: “change” and “hope”.
Obama would signal a change from a Bush Administration which had squandered the goodwill of the world and the American public over the last six years, and he became the embodiment of the hopes of a nation – and the world.
And therein lies the greatest danger for an Obama presidency. He may well be giving people false hope.
In Barack Obama, the auto-worker in Michigan saw the revival of an ailing industry.
In New York, Barack Obama represented the possibility of a more stable financial system.
In small towns like Wasilla, Alaska, Barack Obama represented the hope that maybe their boys won’t have to go on yet another tour in Iraq.
In Barack Obama, a gay Californian saw an insurance policy for equality should Proposition 8 pass, as it did, eliminating the right to marry for same-sex couples.
In Barack Obama, the French radio reporter saw the possibility that the United States join international institutions such as Kyoto, international courts of justice, accords on human rights and education, and a Sarkozy-led Bretton-Woods for the 21st-Century.
Can Obama be everything to everybody who placed their hope for a better future in the change he would bring? I am afraid not.
It is nearly impossible to get more than 50% of Americans to agree on anything unless they are faced with a zero-sum choice. Indeed many of the 52% of American voters who supported Obama have a different idea of what “change” means than the President-elect does.
Already, Obama voters are taking the blame in California for the elimination of the right to marry for same-sex couples on the same day that California extended a litany of rights to farm animals. I am pretty sure that is not the kind of change in which gay and lesbian Americans believed.
In Europe, Obama’s visage already graces more newsstand covers than any other politician or celebrity. In one man are embodied the hopes and aspirations of the French, the British, the Kenyans; just about everyone around the globe, according to an Economist poll.
Barack Obama will have a friendly Democratically controlled Congress to work with and should be able to advance most of his agenda – whatever that was. His greatest risk is that in order to advance an Obama Agenda, he will have to accept a Pelosi Agenda. That’s sure to pull the president-elect further to the left than the change agent candidate, who built a coalition of everyday Americans, not partisan liberal extremists, would like.
In fact, Obama is already trying to lower expectations. In his victory speech on Nov. 4, he said that change may not happen “in one year, or even in one term.” It’s as if he expects to fail at being everything to everyman as he promised during the campaign.
Obama should look at his predecessor as a cautionary tale. After September 11th, George Bush had an approval rating even higher than Barack Obama does today. He was our leader as the nation was under attack and he garnered international support for his actions. But Bush was unable to reconcile the agendas of the 90-percent of Americans who approved of his job performance and the coalition of nations who supported us after the attacks.
I wish President Obama well. I hope to heck that he can make everybody as happy as he’s led them to believe he will. One of the greatest pain inflicted on anyone is the scorn of having their false hope shattered.