It is not uncommon for crisis to define many-a-presidents. What is however uncommon is for a president to define a crisis. Great presidents have been those, who, in spite of the burdens of the time, held an opportunistic view of crisis instead of adversarial. The most mythical of them—George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and FDR—used crisis as a tool to forge the fortunes of a nation and eternally change its consciousness. It was therefore little surprise what legacy he had in mind, when from the steps of the state capitol in Springfield, Ill, Barack Obama on a frosty winter morn in 2007, announced his candidacy for president. Springfield happens to be the home of Lincoln before he became president.
There was no bottling the pixie dust that hovered about Barack Obama in the run-up to his election. The first ever African-American president in the history of a nation with a sordid past? Even if he didn’t want it (which he never for once feigned), fairy godmothers made sure the dust was abundant everywhere and anywhere he went.
Meanwhile, Obama had intimate plans. If greatness was his goal, he could use a crisis. But with no crisis afoot, Obama settled on achieving a landmark legislative agenda that has eluded several administrations before him. Decades after decades, health care reform has proved an untamable beast for many Democratic presidents. If anything, overhauling the nation’s broken health care system was going to be his signature footprint in a first term.
But just six weeks before his election, hell came visiting earth. Pillars that supported the global financial temple began to tremble, with some collapsing altogether. The world was in the throes of a financial earthquake and the U.S. was the epicenter. Could this be the unceremonious break Obama needed all along? After all, Lincoln had his civil war and FDR his fire-breathing dragon called The Great Depression. There’s no doubt in my mind that Obama saw this as a providential opportunity to marshal a howling nation out of the depths of the abyss (partly, because he genuinely cares), and in so doing, demonstrate to posterity his gilded gift as a leader of men.
And, not only did Obama visibly don this robe, the Obama campaign preached coming economic salvation for distressed families in the not too distant future. And upon coming into office, he shepherded through Congress a big stimulus package that promised to ambitiously cut down the nation’s herculean unemployment numbers.
It is September, 2012, almost four years to the day the senator from Illinois took the presidential oath of office, and a nation is still restive. While President Obama has tamed an unconquerable beast, the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act granting 30 million more Americans access to healthcare doesn’t seem enough to guarantee the father of two a second term. That he even risked his presidency by invading another sovereign nation (Pakistan), and consequently killing America’s arch enemy, Osama bin Laden, is yesterday’s news.
While it is true that Obama jumped in front of a runaway economy and saved it from going over the cliff and into the waters below, many voters who were disillusioned in underestimating what long-term work needed to be done are slowly finding themselves seeking therapy for heartbreak and disappointment. For them, it is unconscionable that the magic wand-wielding Messiah has not returned the nation close to the stability of the Clinton boom years. It seems of little consequence that an economy that was losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month is now gaining 100,000 a month.
As a result, Mitt Romney, a man who now stands where Barack once stood, is selling his own pipe dream of drastically vaulting the nation into prosperity; though as governor of his own state, his state was 47th in job creation when he left office.
Poverty in America is at a level not seen in 50 years. And also, a record number of Americans, 46.37 million, are now living on food stamps. Obama is asking for four more years to finish his program of American rejuvenation. Does he deserve any more years? Or is it high time we jumped ship and leave our fortunes to the hands of the pirates yonder? I mean, Mitt Romney and his millionaire country club.