A Less Perfect Union

Published February 10, 2010


It was three years ago today that, amidst tremendous hope and anticipation, Barack Obama announced his presidential bid. “In the face of a politics that's shut you out,” Obama said, “that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union. That's the journey we're on today.”

Mr. Obama ended his speech this way:

And if you will join me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I'm ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with you. Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.

Now every presidential campaign begins with expectations that are too high and goals that cannot be achieved. But Obama and his team did more than any other campaign in our lifetime to promise changes of almost biblical proportions, ushered in by a person some of his supporters took to be almost a demi-god (during the campaign his advisers referred to him as the “Black Jesus”). And now, just a year into his presidency, it has all come crashing down around them.

The nation is more divided under Obama than it was under his predecessor. Cynicism is on the rise while confidence in the government is on the descent. The president's signature domestic initiative is on life-support. His party members have suffered crushing losses and are beginning to turn on him and on one another. Liberals are increasingly unhappy with Obama even as independents are fleeing him in particular and the Democrats in general by 2-to-1 margins. The Republican Party is back, sooner and stronger than anyone could have imagined just a year ago. The mid-term elections are shaping up to be an epic rebuke of Obama, his agenda, and his party. And Obama himself seems lost at sea, unsure on how to proceed. He is desperately trying to recapture the magic of his campaign, hitting on themes that once served him well, yet seemingly unaware of the fact that his golden moment is lost and gone. For an increasing number of Americans, including many who voted for him, it is a distant, bitter memory.

It's hard to think of any person who has inflicted more damage to himself and his party at this stage in his presidency. His journey so far has been, on almost every front and by almost every measure, a failure.

Barack Obama still has time to right the ship. But nothing he has done as president would lead one to have confidence that he will. Under his stewardship, we are a less perfect union.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He served in the Bush White House as director of the office of strategic initiatives.

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