One year on, and the question on the lips of many is, ‘has Obama lived up to expectations?’ But is it a fair one to put now or at all, especially as many people have their own expectations of him? For some, the expectation was reaching the White House. That was the end in itself. For others, simply the beginning. If you, like I, have read the mixed judgments on the President’s first year in office, you cannot, like I, help but arrive at confusion. Has he or hasn’t he? However, when one delves deeper, the absence of unity is unsurprising. The question that constantly emerges is by whose expectation is he to be measured? In part, we all judge politicians by our values and expectations but there is something different about this question when asked in light of the wave of euphoria by which Obama’s election was greeted. Let’s cast our eye back twelve months or so, at least from the viewpoint of one based in the United Kingdom as I am.
What led to the elation that swept through many parts of the world when Mr Obama was elected to be the next President of the United States? We in Britain witnessed a similar euphoria when Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister way back in 1997. But, whereas Blair’s was contained solely within the British Isles or by its citizens, Obama’s was global, off the Richter scale in comparison! I’m no psychologist, but there has to be an explanation for this beyond the science of politics itself. For example, what force led civilians from countries sharing dissimilar political ideologies to those of the US to celebrate in droves the election of this one man? I suspect that Obama was associated with much ‘hope’, more than he promised to deliver either by way of policy or political rhetoric. We witnessed people around the globe holding parties and acquiring new hope. Was this all too much for one man to bear? I daresay it was.
Examining the facts, I have concluded there is no unity on Obama’s success or failure at meeting our expectations because that is impossible to measure. Take one example. It is difficult for Brits to get too excited over the big issue on US health reform when we have had the benefit of a ‘free’ National Health Service for over sixty years. So, success or failure on this side of the Atlantic is unlikely to be measured by that political yardstick. However, Obama’s foreign policy would invite a different type of scrutiny. Interestingly, it was Blair’s foreign policy on Iraq that led to his popularity plummeting irrecoverably. Mr President, take note!
As seen recently with Republican Scott Brown’s shocking victory in the race for the Senate seat in Massachusetts, popularity can wane quickly. However, I would not panic if I were the president. You cannot be all things to all people all of the time. It took Blair six years for his popularity recede, so Obama has plenty of time on his hands, or has he? This brings me back to the issue of one term or two. In a recent interview with ABC News’ Dianne Sawyer, Obama’s body language seemed to suggest that his recent slump in popularity, something with which he was unfamiliar during his presidential election campaign, had got to him. In answer to Sawyer’s question, “Ever in the middle of all that’s coming did you think maybe one term is enough?” he said, “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president”. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Like I say, I’m no psychologist (and, as a lawyer, I accept I might not be the best judge either. No pun intended!), but I detect a negativism that was conspicuously absent during Obama’s many bold speeches; the ones that made you believe in the dream. Come on, every president wishes to be re-elected! There is nothing wrong or vain in having this ambition. Rather than be a really good one-term president why not be a really good two-term president? It’s feasible. That is a point I believe the Obama of the campaign trail would boldly have made.
It’s early days yet. The jury ought to still be out, at least to the end of the presidential term. But, for sure, in whichever way we look at it, we cannot reasonably expect President Obama to fulfil all the requirements of all our high expectations all of the time.
Ryan Clement BA (Hons), BSc (Hons), LLM, is a writer and practising barrister in England