, Salem, MA


February 22, 2014

Shribman: Defining the Obama years


At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the United States, still scarred by racial tensions dating to 1619, nonetheless elected its first black president. Barack Obama of Illinois wasn’t so much a politician as a phenomenon. He was propelled into the White House after only two years in the Senate, where his profile was thin and his record even more so. But he displayed an uncanny ability to align his campaign with the hopes of Americans, including their genuine desire to put the hurts and humiliations of racism behind them. Indeed, hope was at the center of the Obama campaign, coming as it did while the United States was suffering from a serious economic recession. Obama ran as much against George W. Bush, the incumbent president, as he did against his war-hero opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and the Democrat’s innate fluency made for a compelling contrast with the less-polished McCain, whose choice of a running mate with little experience and no rhetorical filters befuddled even his closest aides. Obama’s ascent to the White House was a thrilling national moment of redemption and reconciliation and provided boundless optimism in the country and the capital.

Here’s Obama’s paragraph appropriate for February 2014:

After a bravura presidential campaign that left the country breathless, the nation’s first black president was wrestled down to earth by real-world problems he inherited from his predecessor and, as time went on, by challenges he created himself or were happily delivered to him by the Republican House of Representatives, increasingly ruled by a tea party insurgency that managed to gain the whip hand in the GOP caucus. The post-partisan era Barack Obama promised quickly revealed itself to be more reverie than reality. He proved unable to woo his rivals, who took his landmark health care overhaul and transformed it into a partisan battering ram — an effort that was eased by the multiple, inexplicable problems it encountered as it went into effect. For his part, Obama proved to be an inflexible negotiator, his determination more successful in alienating his rivals than in pleasing his partisan allies. The president succeeded in overseeing the killing of terrorist chieftain Osama bin Laden but displayed an uncertain hand diplomatically and presided over vast expansions of surveillance that troubled those on the right as well as on the left.

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