Unfortunately, there is not much solace in international affairs either, where, again, expectations were so pumped up. America's image is better, no doubt, but uncertainty and procrastination prevail. One major international political leader recently put it well: "Not only does the leadership of this region not think that Obama is strong enough to confront his enemies; they aren't sure he is strong enough to support his friends." The administration seems "hopelessly naive," according to one Arab foreign minister, and unable to face the full truth about Islamic terrorism. The public frustration over the administration's mismanagement of the latest jihadist attempt to blow up a plane with all its innocent travelers (on Christmas Day) was captured in the New York Daily News headline "Mr. President, it's time to get a grip!"
The consequence is that there isn't a single critical problem on which the president has a positive public rating. Only a minority of Americans now believe the president will make the right decisions for the country. Nor can he any longer take refuge in the rejoinder that "we inherited a terrible situation." Or blame it on fat-cat bankers and insurance companies. Blaming others, including Bush, for the country's predicament is less and less persuasive. "At some point you own your presidency," wrote Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. "At some point the American people tell you it's yours."
More worrying for the administration is that while Obama gets the approval of 76 percent of non-whites, his approval among whites is down to 41 percent, according to Gallup. This is a huge change that literally puts the Democratic control of Congress at risk. The Republicans have hardly been stellar either, but there is now a renewed openness in the country to hear what they have to say. Obama's political realignment of America is over. We no longer believe that he will "change the world" and "transform the country."
This brings to mind why an adviser to President Roosevelt in the 1930s, Bernard Baruch, told electors to vote for the person who promised them less. In this way, he said, "you would be less disappointed." There is still time for Obama to change and turn things around. But the first year is the critical year, one in which the public defines the president, and it has to be said that broad swaths of the country are deeply disappointed.