Who stole our change? Who hijacked a popular uprising that was going to put a stop to business as usual in Washington? What happened to Barack Obama on his way to the White House?
The Republicans have been so busy trying to paint President Obama as a socialist, as a radical, as a Marxist, as a Muslim, as the Devil, that they haven't even noticed that he has become one of them.
What a difference a year can make. A year ago Barack Obama was on the campaign trail, promising an American electorate disheartened and disgusted by eight years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that he was going to change everything if he was elected president.
He would be the new broom, sweeping out the dirt, collecting the trash, fixing everything that was broken and tarnished and perverted in our government, in our nation's capital, in our White House.
He swept into office on a high tide of good will and anticipation. He was going to fix Wall Street. He was going to end the war in Iraq. He was going to bring a new era of transparency to government. He was going to stimulate a faltering economy and give new hope to a shrinking, frightened middle class. He was going to close the prison at Guantanamo and end the torture policies of his predecessors. There was even a hope that we would investigate how we went wrong and who ordered it.
He came to town on a white horse, riding a staggering wave of popular approval in the polls, a golden leader in a golden moment with a golden opportunity, and then he did what? Nothing much. Nothing different.
Oh, he can still talk the talk and he does that incessantly. But he seemingly can't walk the walk.
He may still sound like a revolutionary but more and more he looks and acts like George W. Bush, albeit a George W. Bush who can speak a complete sentence in the English language.
Obama's approval ratings are beginning to unwind and begin a long downward spiral among those who had believed in the promises of change. There was a golden moment when change was possible, but it is gone now.
There was one thing Obama absolutely had to do, even before tackling an economic meltdown and the Wall Street and big bank ripoffs: He had to reassure Americans that we all live under the rule of law; that no one by virtue of holding the highest offices in the land, or having the biggest bank account, is above the law.
It was incumbent on new President Obama to step back and let justice be done. Let the investigators do their job. Not only to let justice be done but let justice be seen to be done.
But no. He said he wanted to focus on the future, not revisit the past. He needed to get moving on stimulating a foundering economy. And he screwed that up, too, reaching out to the very pirates who had looted their stockholders, their own companies, their own country to find someone to appoint as treasury secretary, thus reassuring Wall Street that he wasn't going to turn over any apple carts.
He declared that we, as a nation and people, would no longer torture our enemies and suspected enemies; would no longer lock them up and throw away the key; would no longer violate our own laws and those of the international conventions governing warfare.
But he trooped over to the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters to reassure those who had "only followed orders" when they tortured and abused helpless prisoners that they would never face justice. Nor would those who gave those illegal orders.
He promised to release another big batch of torture photos from our concentration camps in Afghanistan and Iraq and then reneged on that promise under pressure from the national security mavens.
His promises of transparency in government weren't worth a pitcher of warm spit. He sent the new, cleaner Justice Department lawyers into court to use the same limp arguments of national security to ask judges to back off on doing their jobs.
And bit by bit the possibility of change disappeared; bit by bit the hope of a renewed and reinvigorated American democracy and way of government faded away. Those who had held a dream in their hand closed their hand and crushed the dream.
Joseph L. Galloway is a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers and a former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers; he is co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340.
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