Bitter-enders cling to dreams of hope and change

America gave itself over to the dream of transformative change 51 weeks ago, but the moment has passed.

Yet for a claque of die-hard Barack Obama fans, including many in the media, a new America is still just over the horizon.

“Yes he can” blares the cover of the current edition of Newsweek, which bills itself as “A liberal's survival guide.” Writer Anna Quindlen assures readers that while Obama has stumbled, he is still on track to deliver sweeping change.

Newsweek is looking for relevancy these days, but like an 80-year-old woman in a miniskirt, its cover story draws the wrong kind of attention. It's a good example, though, of how the true believers are clinging to the magic of Election Day.

Quindlen says that one day, there will be universal health care and only empty cells at Guantanamo … but it's a process. She says the Left must embrace Obama the consensus-building technocrat and set aside the fantasies the president stoked in order to get elected: “This was the moment that the oceans stopped their rise …” etc.

But since the administration has struggled to either operate with technocratic efficiency or build consensus, Quindlen's argument falls flat.

Distracted by picking political fights and failing to realize the difficulties of his job, Obama hardly looks like a plausible chief executive officer these days. But for the fifth of the country that is still holding on to the dream that he can remake America, it's probably better than nothing.

On the other end of the political spectrum, there are those who still believe that Obama holds magical powers, albeit to do evil.

But most Americans have come to see Obama as just another politician: Rather vain, quite partisan, and eager to claim the good and brush off the bad. It's a fair assessment and reflects the fundamental American distrust of government.

Moderate and independent voters, who fled Obama this summer and continue to stay away, are not expecting the rebirth of hope and change. They're just hoping to survive the grandiose ideas of yet another president.

The vast majority of Americans know that the health plan Obama has proposed would not help them, and many believe it would hurt them badly. It promises no clear benefit but threatens a jungle of red tape and unintended consequences.

To be undertaking such an expensive, complex task when the economy is brittle and the nation is at war has cemented the notion that Obama misunderstands his job. Ditto for cap and trade.

His overall handling of the economy suggests someone who, after failing with bold strategies, is afraid to act at all. As the nation drifts into stagnant economic waters, the president seems mostly focused on explaining why being the second biggest economy in the world wouldn't be so bad.

After mocking his predecessor for failing in Afghanistan, Obama's strategy has run smack into the intractable realities that confounded George W. Bush. Obama has been vamping for a month, looking for a political way to turn his war of necessity into a police action.

So you could say that the transition from hope and change to technocratic competence has been something of a bust.

In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Obama's personal approval ratings are down to pre-election levels, with a 56 percent viewing the president in a positive light rather than the almost 70 percent around the time of his inauguration.

In April, 64 percent of Americans gave Obama high marks for being honest and straightforward. In October, it's 51 percent. As for being a strong leader and for inspiring the nation, Obama also saw his ratings drop sharply over the same period.

Meanwhile, questions about the level of trust in Washington reveals a nation cynical about its leaders. Only 23 percent of Americans trust the government to always or usually do what's right, while 76 percent think the government will rarely or never do what's right — 7 points worse than it was two weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Part of the problem for the president was that he believes his own hype. He thought that he could lay his hands on a troubled nation and set things right. Out of the crucible of crisis, Obama would forge a stronger, better land — a nation in his own image.

If enablers like Quindlen and others still in the cult of personality don't start leveling with the president, he may never learn the humility necessary to govern.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at

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