2011 Brings Less Hope for Obama, All Americans

Time to hope for a little less.

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Hope less: a way to say what we feel going into 2011, a few years into hard times, the Obama presidency and the toll taken on our nation's people since a new president, full of hope, took the oath of office in the bitter cold.

Hope less: write it on the wind as the takeaway message of the divided-house election of 2010. Today, consider how much less hope there is to go around the table than after the 2008 election stole so many hearts--a loss of lavish euphoria and expectations that can't be counted in poll numbers.

Even as Obama ended 2010 on a sweet Mozartian up-note on Capitol Hill, the mood in Washington among his White House aides-de-camp and fellow Democrats is embattled. They are digging in for a siege this winter from the newly empowered Republicans let loose on the House side of the Capitol. The Democratic Senate shall stay blue, and has much to be proud of, passing both a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and ratifying the New START treaty this month. Yet there is a sense of skepticism that the new slightly smaller configuration of Senate Democrats can do much more than hold the line when they meet and start all over again in January.

Demoralized House Democrats, now turned out in the cold minority, had fought hardest for core causes and made up most of the fallen. Only two Democratic senators actually lost; Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas went down. But the dramatic sweep of the House turnover made the Republican political victory appear even more momentous, to victors and vanquished alike. For the angry white male Rush Limbaugh-listening crowd, to see liberal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi lose her job was sweet indeed. Pelosi, even more than Obama, represents their worst fears of the left, perhaps because she is such a good pol who stands her ground.

Hope less: no matter where we live on the spectrum of ideas, this is a tall task for us Americans. For we are by nature an optimistic people who have lived and breathed dreams of progress, social and economic, since the tumultuous time this nation was conceived. An era of lowered expectations--just for the simple things like a good job, an affordable home, decent public education--does not come easy. Anxiety runs high in virtually every age group, and joblessness is the worst worry of all. The near 10 percent unemployment rate is also the thorn Obama and Congress have done least to directly address (other than extending benefits) while Wall Street got bailed out and forgot to write a thank you note. The economic stimulus package probably does not go far enough in the deep recession that descended on the land just as he took office, though there are signs the Great Recession may be easing somewhat.

These are the broad brush strokes of a divided capital and a cerebral president who clearly has more minds than hearts on his side in the discouraged electorate. Obama's calculated move to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy making over $250,000 was hailed as very smart (by arch-conservative pundits like Charles Krauthammer) and seen as a sell-out of fair play by the truest-blue. Most in the middle saw it as good politics of adroit bipartisanship, and didn't much mind if it was bad policy. Those who minded the deal mostly have no place to go, anyway.

Now that one half of Obama's four years in office is over, nobody can deny he has made a mark on the American story, especially in achieving healthcare reform. Yet psychologically, that is a promise on paper that has not yet been delivered to our doors, The longest war in Afghanistan offers a bleak horizon of uncertainty--with scant support for the enormous stress it has placed on the Army and the Treasury.

Obama's initial eloquent hope for change seemed to bring out the best in the American character. The euphoria that crested in Chicago and danced in Washington at the inaugural balls were as lasting as the stuff of dreams. Nevertheless, we know that president better now--not as a starry-eyed suitor or a sweet-talking boyfriend, but as a sensible husband.

Presiding over an America diminished by real trouble on the home front was not Obama's idea. Few saw this fall from paradise coming, but in a way it was predestined by George W. Bush's undermining actions of lowering taxes and starting a couple of wars. The first decade of this century was costly indeed, leaving America sobered up, our signature confidence in the future shaken as we hope and wish for a recovery in a happier new year.

However, we hope for a little less: something to mark the sober Obama years so far.

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