When former President George W. Bush figures its safe to pile on President Obama, you know the people are restless.
Yes, everywhere you go in the United States today, you run up against worry and angst. Jobs are not coming back. For a while it was chic to spend less; now it’s just boring. The stock market gyrations are dizzying and depressing. They’re rioting in Iran, while Obama ponders what tone to take. On Capitol Hill, they’re sucking their thumbs.
Gays and lesbians are angry with Obama for not giving them more rights; social conservatives are angry with him for saying he understands gay pain. Wall Street is still a mess, and we keep finding out more dirt behind the scenes. The new financial regulations are either too tough or too lenient, depending on whether they affect you or not.
Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, is a cipher people say they don’t know enough about. They like Michelle Obama, but excitement over the new puppy has worn off.
General Motors is still bankrupt, and there is no consensus on health care reform; it may even be in the throes of an early death. The deficit is now measured in trillions, a concept no ordinary mortal can understand.
Obama has been in office for five months now. Why are we still having these problems?
It’s a good thing we Americans don’t live in other countries, where problems fester for decades, if not centuries. No, we want action, and we want it now. We want our old, boom-boom economy back, and we’ve all got a sinking feeling that won’t happen for years, if ever.
Bush, who has been silent on Obama, letting Dick Cheney do the heavy lifting of criticism, finally went to Erie, Pa., to blast his successor. Bush accused Obama of inserting government into business (although his own financial team started the bailouts), of coddling prisoners at Guantanamo before it is closed (they might be surprised to hear that), and pushing nationalization of health care (which the White House denies). So much for being above the fray.
It’s not that people have fallen out of love with Obama or given up hope that he will be a good president (he’s still got a 63 percent job approval rating). It’s more that expectations were too high, media hype too uncontrolled and impatience too unbound.
People are naturally upset because they realize this recession is not going away anytime soon. They got their hopes up and saw them dashed. They’re terrified by the hundreds of billions of dollars being handed out to shore up the economy, which seems to be counterintuitive to many.
Obama makes a highly visible, increasingly inviting target for criticism. Three out of four Republicans think he’s leading the country in the wrong direction. Desperate to try to rebuild their party, Republicans are finding it is easier to swipe at the president without being shouted down.
Democrats, frantic over the size of the deficit and unsure of the future, are again doing what they do best: squabbling among themselves.
Meanwhile, cable TV breathlessly thrives on it all.
Of course, there is a flip side to all this. The economy did not collapse. Financial regulators are being more careful. Foreigners are intrigued by Obama and listening to him. Millions of Iranians want democracy. Savings rates have gone up, and people are being more careful with their money. They are working harder to keep their jobs, realizing how precious they are.
There are serious, important national debates underway on immigration, abortion, affirmative action, civil liberties and torture. Were realizing that if we want health care for everyone, well have to pay for it.
We see, once again, that change is not easy. It’s a lot better to read about history than to live through the making of it.
As Obama comes up in a few weeks on his six-month marker, we have to look around and realize there is still reason for optimism and hope. Hey, let’s give the fellow a chance, at least a few more months.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)