“At 11 p.m., the wild rumpus began on Boylston Street as Emerson residence halls spewed forth throngs of students who marched down the street toward Copley Square.”
Emily Carroll wrote those words in the Beacon on Nov. 6, 2008, two days after President Obama’s election. People were electrified. Students — those apathetic Americans whom pundits believed to be more sluggish than civic — voted in hordes. A few weeks later, Obama announced in his inaugural address that he would usher in “a new era of responsibility.” It felt as though we were witnessing history in real time. And we were. Walking down Boylston street — I kid you not — a Boston local actually wished me a good afternoon.
Last Friday marked the anniversary of Obama’s inauguration, the halfway mark in his historic term. Despite all his accomplishments, one can’t help but notice: For many of those who went crazy back in 2008, the wind has left our sails.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 49 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing. President Obama’s first two years boasted the biggest budget deficits, measured as a share of national GDP, since World War II. According to the New York Times, unemployment remains around 10 percent, 16 percent for individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. Our transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of repair, and the Programme for International Student Assessment recently rated our education system at 18th in the world, between Iceland and Lichtenstein. Guantanamo is still open. And we’re still at war. Considering the challenges we still face, it’s not surprising Americans are dissatisfied with their President.
But it is disappointing. According to Bloomberg, Obama’s administration presided over the most productive Congress since the 1960’s. It passed both health care reform that is expected to cover 32 million uninsured Americans and a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia that the State Department says will reduce the number of warheads deployed by each country from 6,000 to 3,050. It regulated credit card companies such that they can no longer bill you for overcharging your credit card. The list goes on. Are Americans unaware of these achievements, or simply uninterested?
Obama’s midterm ‘shellacking’ may be evidence for the latter. The day after last November’s election, the President offered what I think is still the most compelling diagnosis of what has ailed his administration thus far. “One of the reasons I think people were excited during the campaign was the prospect of changing how business is done in Washington,” Obama said from the White House Press Room. “We were in such a hurry to get things done, we didn’t change how things got done.”
Though I share the disappointment felt by some of those who voted for Obama in 2008, I think their disillusionment is a sign of fatigue, and that their blame is misplaced.
We should not fault Obama for failing to bring fundamental change to way Washington works. We should fault Washington.
Our political class knew as well as we did the postpartisan era we envisioned on Nov. 4, 2008. Even though that dream was conceived en masse, we stupidly thought it could be achieved by one person. This task should have been entrusted to every elected official or, better still, every citizen. My disappointment is not with Obama. I’m disappointed with us. We expected our President, after doing all in his power to pull a nation back from the brink of economic collapse, to also achieve what is uniquely in our power — to bring fundamental change to politics.
In 2008, Obama helped us articulate a dream. Two years in, he has already proven himself an accomplished President. But to solve the problems we face, he will need more support than we have given him during the first half of his term. The changes you wish to see will not transpire without you. If, over the past two years, your dreams have turned to dust — vacuum.