This once-in-a-lifetime presidential candidate made history as the first black president of a nation where blacks were still held in bondage three centuries before.
His election intellectually and politically marked the emergence of the US, and by definition the world, from the long, dark shadow of the Bush years.
Obama was hailed as a latter-day saviour in the process, but he has not only failed to live up to the hopes invested him by the millions who queued for hours to cast their vote for the change he so eloquently championed, he’s succeeded in trampling those hopes into the dust.
Just another machine politician in thrall to the corporations and to Wall Street is the view, judging by recent opinion polls, of many of his former supporters after two years of failure to tackle the lobbyists, the Republicans and the Washington machine head on, as he promised he would if elected.
Thinking back to those heady weeks and months of the Obama campaign, when he first won the Democratic nomination then the presidency, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of disappointment and disenchantment his presidency has resulted in.
The vast crowds who listened to speeches promising a new era of equality and justice at home and peace and multilateralism abroad were swept up and along in a combination of excitement and optimism after enduring the despair of a two-term Republican administration that had come to be defined by damaging and expensive wars overseas and obscene inequality and economic mismanagement at home.
By dint of spellbinding oratory and a nation desperate for change, Obama seemed to have arrived as the living embodiment of the old saw, "cometh the time, cometh the man."
Some commentators have suggested that he naively breezed into Washington underestimating the power of the vested interests which dominate its vast institutions and the machinery of government.
His notion of taking on the lobbyists, fighting and defeating the corporations and, most crucially, of being able to reach across the political divide to reach consensus with his Republican opponents was, they assert, nothing more than delusional, reflecting not only naivety but also to some degree a measure of conceit in his own abilities.
His failure to introduce anything more than diluted and much attenuated health-care reform, reform Wall Street and tackle rising unemployment has been matched by his administration’s mishandling of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the issue of Iran and failure to make concrete progress on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians.
Just two years ago an Obama speech was an event not to be missed. The scenes of euphoria when he was elected as the nation’s 44th president, the moving and inspiring victory speech he gave in Chicago afterwards in front of tens of thousands of supporters which allowed even the most cynical and defeated progressive to open the door to hope once again, felt truly historic.
Now it all seems a cruel joke, the memory taunting the millions who believed that a new age was at hand with their own gullibility.
Obama’s election should have sent the Republican Party into the political wilderness for years to come.
Instead, his failure to press home a progressive agenda, utilising the momentum of a mandate that most elected leaders could only dream about, with Democratic majorities in both chambers of the house, has galvanised the Republicans, particularly the Republican right, leading to the emergence of the Tea Party movement.
Positing itself as an anti-establishment counterweight to the crushing power of big government in Washington, the Tea Party comprises a coalition of the most regressive, xenophobic, homophobic, libertarian extremists you are ever likely to find anywhere in the West, providing in the process the momentum behind the resurgence of the intellectually challenged Sarah Palin as a strong contender for the Republican nomination for president two years hence.
Obama’s inability or unwillingness to tackle the hold which Wall Street has on the US economy has left his credibility in tatters.
Thanks to the power of the banking lobby in Washington, not to mention the millions used to fund the campaigns of various congressmen and women, it’s almost as if the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which led inexorably to the global financial crisis, never happened.
The bail-out of US banks and financial institutions that were threatened with collapse has not been replicated to anything like the same extent when it comes to supporting jobs and homeowners.
Foreclosures across the US have been widespread in the wake of the financial crisis, causing a sharp decline in property prices as the bottom falls out of the real estate market, feeding unemployment which currently sits at an official rate of 9.6 per cent.
The government could and should have intervened to forestall the foreclosure crisis, bailing out homeowners with federal funds while at the same time forcing the banks to write down their principal loans, ie lower the amount owed.
Instead, the Obama administration has come up with a piecemeal intervention which thus far has only helped 20 per cent of homeowners under threat of foreclosure.
Clearly, it was not Obama’s fault that he entered the White House amid a financial crisis that had been brewing for over a decade previously.
Neither can he be blamed for the economic mismanagement and foreign policy disasters of the Bush administration before him.
However, at home he has failed to provide sufficient aid to save jobs and homes, failed also to introduce major structural reform to Wall Street, while abroad his focus on Afghanistan has proved a disaster, entrenching US commitment to a war it cannot and will not win.
In addition, his unwillingness to exert his authority as US president when it comes to Israel flouting his request to halt settlement expansion in the midst of yet another round of futile peace negotiations has shown him up to be weak in the face of Israeli intransigence.
As the midterm elections approach, the polls indicate that the Democrats are in for a mauling, in danger of losing control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
If this happens then it is hard to see how his administration will be able to pass any new legislation at all, given the Republican propensity for filibustering.
In failing to keep engaged those millions who mobilised to support his campaign for president, calling upon them to help drive through the agenda for change he based his entire candidacy around, for example calling for mass demonstrations in support of the single-payer health-care system so desperately needed by the nation’s poor and the working class, Obama has succumbed to the power of vested interests and corporate power which have so long dictated US domestic and foreign policy.
Sadly, Obama’s historic achievement in becoming the first black president of the United States appears increasingly hollow.
Indeed, in this regard, the words of Martin Luther King now seem eminently prescient. "What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?"
November 1, 2010