Obama, Moses and exaggerated expectations

By Bernd Debusmann
October 25, 2010

-Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

President Barack Obama is close to the half-way mark of his presidential mandate, a good time for a brief look at health care, unemployment, war, the level of the oceans, the health of the planet, and America’s image. They all featured in a 2008 Obama speech whose rhetoric soared to stratospheric heights.

“If…we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I’m absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on earth.”

The date was June 3, 2008. Obama had just won the Democratic Party’s nomination as presidential candidate. He was also winning the adulation of the majority of the American people, who shrugged off mockery from curmudgeonly Republicans who pointed out that the last historical figure to affect ocean levels was Moses and he had divine help when he parted the Red Sea.

Obama took to the campaign trail again this month to help Democratic candidates for the mid-term elections on November 2 and he would need divine intervention to prevent his party from losing control of the House and possibly the Senate.

The vote is in part a referendum on his first two years in office and the adoration has faded, not least because it would have been difficult for anyone to actually meet the high expectations he raised in dramatic speeches.

There is a certain symmetry between next month’s mid-terms and those four years ago, when Democrats took control of both houses of Congress (and consolidated it in 2008). The result stemmed from dissatisfaction with the economy, with the Republican Party and with President George W. Bush. Now there is dissatisfaction with the economy (much more troubled than in 2006) with Democrats, and with Obama.

And how does today’s reality match the exuberant pre-election promise of 2008? Better care for the sick, provided by the controversial health care reform bill Obama signed into law in March, is on the way but will not kick in fully until 2014. Good jobs for the jobless? The unemployment rate is stuck at around 10 percent. Slowing the rise of the oceans and healing the planet? The prospects for ambitious climate change legislation are bleak.

Ending a war? The number of American troops in Iraq has been cut from a peak of 176,000 to 50,000, whose role is to assist Iraq’s armed forces. As American forces pulled out of Iraq, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan swelled to around 100,000. They are to begin withdrawing next summer but the U.S. military presence won’t end.

Securing the nation? Time will tell whether America is more attack-proof now than it was when Obama took over. Finally, restoring America’s image. This is the one lofty promise that comes closest to reality. As global brand manager-in-chief, Obama can claim credit for having softened the image of the Ugly American in large parts of the world. This is no mean feat – being disliked makes diplomacy more difficult and is bad for business.

There are no polls on how many people around the world see the United States as “the last best hope on earth” but there are extensive surveys on the popularity, or lack of it, of America, Americans, and their president. The Pew Global Attitudes Project, which has monitored such sentiments since 2001, shows that the number of countries where a majority of citizens hold favourable views of the U.S. almost doubled from 2008, the last year of George W. Bush, to 2009, Obama’s first.

Foreign policy is the most important factor in shaping foreign opinions but a president has considerable power to affect perceptions. Or to disappoint by failing to match soaring words with actual deeds. For example, the new chapter in relations between the United States and the Muslim world Obama promised in a much-lauded speech from Cairo in the summer of 2009 turned out not all that different from the old chapter.

As a consequence, the Pew survey noted, Muslims grew disillusioned about Obama and confidence in him fell sharply, from 41 percent to 31 percent in Egypt, for example, and from 33 percent to 23 percent in Turkey. In Pakistan, the most anti-American country monitored in the survey, it dropped from 13 percent to 8 percent. That’s just one point higher than it was under George W. Bush in his last year.

In a series of campaign appearances on behalf of Democrats in danger of losing their seats in next week’s elections, Obama appealed for patience to achieve the changes he promised in lofty speeches. “In a big, messy democracy” like that of the United States, “everything takes time.”

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)


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yes, USA is very lucky to have OBAMA as your PRESIDENT of course he is not a magician to solve all your problems in just 2 years , but if you analize it hes really good as your president, i pray for your president even though im not american.
hes good your stimulkus bills goes to your infrastructure development making americas no. 1 again and the energy power its really huge and your health bills , you feel it after 5 years or more thats the time you will appreciate OBAMAS WORK. GOD BLESS PRES OBAMA How i wish youe parties won again, good luck

Posted by zal | Report as abusive

Obama did have the adulation of the people that elected the Democrats in and everyone had high hopes.

Guess what – Obama waffled on everything and took a weak stand – in middle and conciliatory and ultimately gave watered down results not close the to hearts of Democrats.

You talk to Republicans and they hate Obama. That is understandable. You talk to Democrats and they are so disappointed he went only a wee step forward when he had the clout to actually make a difference.

The one that sticks in my craw the most is the health care crap. All we needed was to break up the 4 Insurance cartels and bring in competition. Instead we saddled the taxpayers to subsidize health care costs that are now skyrocketing out of control.

I guess he had to answer to the people that put him in office.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

As an Iraq Vet it would have been nice to hear a Democrat say “everything takes time” while we were in harms way trying to fix a bad situation. Instead we got “failure” and “General Betray Us” type comments thrown at us. Turns out that given the “time and resources” we were able to turn things around. So I have a hard time buying into Democratic positive talk when all they threw around was negative talk to gain political advantage while me and my buddies were in harms way. Granted, with hindsight being 20/20 Iraq should have been handled differently, but once you are in the midst of combat that argument doesn’t mean much. The funny thing is that just like Somalia, once a democrat is in office the media turns its attention away from the war until something goes terribly wrong and even then the Democrat gets a break in the media.

Posted by Bdy2010 | Report as abusive

Well Put

Posted by dlewis17 | Report as abusive


We should have removed Hussein in the first Gulf War. We didn’t because we knew what happened in Iraq in 2003 would have happened back then. If you supported the removal of milosevic based on his crimes against humanity, Hussein should have been gone many many years ago.

I supported and still support the removal of both tyrants. Sunni Iraq may have had nice hospitals and a good economy, Kurdish Iraq and Shi’ite Iraq was starved, gassed, and acid dripped for years. Their quality of life has risen and the Sunni’s has fallen.

I invite you to go back and read the address for the reason to invade Iraq. Nuclear weapons was a very, very small part of that speech. We invaded due to resolution, after resolution, after resolution by the UN that was ignored by Hussein. Clinton had no problems attacking Iraq, for the same intelligence that was used when we went in the final time. Not a single Democrat stood against Clinton, and less than 2% stood against Bush until after the fact. They politicized Iraq, and Obama was dead wrong when he said the surge wouldn’t work. That is our commander in chief now, the one who is copying Bush’s strategy in Afghanistan and wondering why it isn’t working. He doesn’t have a clue, all he knows how to do is fire generals who disagree with him.

Posted by Trooth | Report as abusive

Republicans historically have done better things for the country. There is corruption in both parties, but the best chance for America to prosper at least financially and morally is the Republican party.The Democrats know the game is up for them so they been pulling out the heavy artillery like nationalized health care, higher taxes,
(keep capital gains taxes,) pro abortion for the most part,
and all sorts of things that most Americans in general oppose or dont want!

Posted by godstheanswer | Report as abusive

Helen Thomas, former WH reporter, once said that she never knew a president who wanted to be a “war president” – until George W. Bush. Bush and Cheney wanted to be a “war administration” for 2 reasons:

1- to boost their personal “machismo” after both avoiding conflict in Vietnam as younger men.

2- to assure reelection in 2004, both realizing that the American public wouldn’t change an administration at war.

Al Gore had it right when he said that Bush/Cheney couldn’t find or get Bin Laden quickly, or at all, so they decided to make Saddam pay for 9-11. The diversion from the Afghan theatre of operation in 2003 is what we have been paying for ever since.

Posted by Skillin7 | Report as abusive

ginchinchili. You laid this down clear and as someone outside of America, I really hope things go well because I lost a lot of faith in America and they have a long way to win back people’s trust.

What should be done first is to heal the country. After that the World image should be gotten back. I pray God heals the world in the mighty name of JESUS.

Posted by Nsikanew | Report as abusive

@Skillin7: …on second thought, your analysis is too silly to bother commenting on.

@ginchinchili: Nice rehash of old Iraq war criticisms. Your view that it was George Bush, alone and solitary (maybe with Cheney) who approved of going to war, is patently ridiculous. The decision was entirely bipartisan — almost every major Democrat backed the decision to go to war. And, no, Bush did not coerce over 20 autonomous countries’ intelligence bureaus into concluding that Iraq had WMD (Britain and Italy still contend that he had them until shortly before the war; or do they persist in that folly because they are just afraid that Bush will come get them?). Hussein violated UN resolutions for over a decade. Our “allies” helped him violate those resolutions. And, despite the fact that our allies wanted to keep on with those profitable violations, they still concluded, independently, that Iraq had WMD. We don’t even have to go into the humanitarian reasons for getting rid of Hussein. Is Iraq perfect today? Far from it. But, its people have a chance — a chance that they would have never had with Hussein — to form a better country, a country where their kids can grow up in something other than a totalitarian nightmare. And Muslims now have an example of democracy — messy as it is — to inspire them to overthrow their dictators; dictators who oppress women, crush dissent and fund radical Islamism. It is possible that Iraq’s nascent democracy is the beginning of a transformation of the Middle East. Likely? Who knows; but definitely a possible beginning (and try to think beyond your own lifespan; it may take decades, but you have to start somewhere, rather than just condemn people to perpetual subjugation, as the world was happy to do with Iraqis, and so many other peoples around the world, like Darfuris and Tibetans). That is more hope than the people of the Middle East have had in centuries.

Posted by Welred | Report as abusive

Bernd: the least important of all of the things you listed for the President to do is improve what other countries think of us. Perhaps those countries, such as Pakistan, should worry more about their own country, such as it is, riddled with corruption, poverty and illiteracy, and an intelligence agency that has no government oversight. I’m not terribly concerned about improving the US’s standing with individuals who delude themselves (or are simply ignorant enough to be fooled) into thinking that the US or the Israelis perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. I shudder to think what those “morally superior” citizens of other countries would do if they had the power of the US in their country’s hands. Thank god the US possesses that power. Pity it is currently in the hands of Obama, who apparently does not understand anything about the history or spirit of this country.

Posted by Welred | Report as abusive

Obama is detested in the U.S. for several reasons that delve more into our heritage as a nation than with who OR what Obama is. FIRST, he is a “snake charmer” who has demonstrated his despise for the average American because of his “one track” pursuits and only pretends to listen to the populace when he feels threatened that HIS agenda might fail. Culturally INDEPENDENT Americans, which Obama is NEITHER, do NOT stand for being TOLD what they are going to HAVE to do…by ANYONE ! With regards to the Health Care, HIS BLIND pursuit of this ONE goal was done in a PARTISAN way that even the most uneducated American saw through, while the economy suffered and a MAJORITY questioned how any stimulus should be applied. Even some of the Democrats who strongly supported him have seen this. Like Clinton once said about Bush…” he just doesn’t get it” ! Obama acted more as a dictatorial proctologist than a leader…..”bend over here it comes, one way or the other” ! SECOND, Obama was, and still is, ill prepared to serve as President of the U.S. To the novice, he SOUNDED good, but to the fewer educated, it was easy to see the “puff WITHOUT substance”. The African-American electorate have even become disillusioned with him because they have seen their “Great BLACK Hope” abandon them. His political statements have become the mere rhetoric that he has pontificated on before, that they have become so predictable. THIRD, while many in the World hate America, it has been borne out that the MAIN reason is that they are envious of what we HAVE…FREEDOM…or at least HAD ! Over the years we have admittitedly flaunted this attitude to our detriment, BUT, we were more oft than not, the FIRST, and sometimes the ONLY source of aide when disaster hit. Many times this was greeted with “biting the hand that fed them”. Being a cultural NON-American, Obama should have had MORE and BETTER relations with other world countries. He has NOT ! Why should he have a high rating when he has NOT earned it for US. As for the future of America under Obama ? The new Congress, will ham-string him so much because of his PAST attitudes, that we WILL suffer under him. He, likewise, will use his Executive powers to veto future Congressional laws “he” feels to be anti- Obama ! A last thought provoking comment for NON Americans. Would YOU, Germany, France, Japan, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Australia, Norway, Honduras, Denmark….and so on right around the Globe,…EVER, …EVER…allow a NON cultural(fill in the cultural heritage blank) person, like Obama IS, be voted to the top political office in YOUR country ?

Posted by CHINMUSIC | Report as abusive


Posted by JOHN200408 | Report as abusive

Obama as 2 more years to go and counting!
God bless this country and the american people we are heading for the pit!!!

Posted by maverick7 | Report as abusive

ginchinchili – The least of our worries right now, possibly ever, should be whether you, not an American, have lost faith in America. America has been there during times of trouble for virtually every nation on this planet. Those same people, recipients of our generosity, ridicule America regularly. Not our problem. If we’re so bad, stop taking aid, military assistance, and every other kind of help we offer. Not just our government, but the American people give more charitably to help other nations in times of trouble than people from all other countries combined.

Posted by Lubywa | Report as abusive

Thank you for trying to understand what’s going on here. But from this American’s point of view, the best part of your article was the title – yes, both Obama and Moses were beset by their flocks, impatient for change. Perhaps we are a stiff necked people here in the States – and if so, it’s from watching too much infernal TELLY. And boy do they try to TELL us – CNN, FOX, the lot of them – what to think: For example, they’d have us believe that little or nothing has been accomplished in the short 2 years that Obama has spent basically extricating us from the muck that George W. Bush left us in. It’s a tribute to the Right Wing Spin Machine that more Americans don’t realize that the first steps to the proper changes HAVE been made. To give up on O after less than 2 years, given the state of the Nation when he took the reins, shows an incredible susceptibility to being fed the dankest hogwash- and unquestioningly swallowing it. The Change IS coming – you of all people should realize, it doesn’t happen overnight. How long has your Empire stood? – Tom father of 2, musician, New Yorker -

Posted by tommym | Report as abusive

Too much rhetoric and not enough sense and sensibility.
Let Obama be. Put the past behind us. To err is human. To forgive is divine. In retrospect, Truman was a good pres, Nixon not, and W will linger on in infamy. John,200408, you are right. A president can’t do it all by himself. But we need balance in Congress. We need to care for our earth. God left it for us to care for. So, the health care plan is not so great. It’s better than the Republicans deserve. Maybe some day we can catch up with other countries – to their standards of health care. I’m still proud to be an American. How about y’all. Thanks for letting me share.

Posted by BJtoo | Report as abusive

you may think it’s a joke to compare the divine with the intellect of the present Government, But for sure, we need a major miraculous move. In the time of great need comes prophetic advice, “it’s time for a Jubilee” and a Jubilee is a National Trust in the Almighty’s Power to assist and Redeem. To start over, even at the enemies threat’s, whoever they be… God has humbled the most powerful of men, fear not!
IF we continue without the Prophets Blessing, which is set up in “Divine Order” we certainly will find our own way to fail most miserably. Still power belongs to the King. (presidents and governors of states) May he be wise and seek the wise and the true prophetic view, after all Moses was a Prophet. So much more required to whom much is given, And the Lord shall do nothing in the earth lest he reveals it to his prophets…

Posted by 4acause | Report as abusive

To the poster, BJtoo – I appreciate your post. Agreed 100%.

To the poster, 4acause – May the Power you believe in bless you with an independent mind to make your own decisions and not be too dependent on outside sources for your strength.

Posted by tommym | Report as abusive

The person who wrote this!

(yes, USA is very lucky to have OBAMA as your PRESIDENT of course he is not a magician to solve all your problems in just 2 years , but if you analize it hes really good as your president, i pray for your president even though im not american.)

What? First of all, your not American so go away your opinion means nothing!

But if you can tell us what country, we’ll be glad to give him to you. He’ll need a new job in 2012. And PRAYING won’t do any good, he does not pray to the same god most of us do.


Posted by PoliticalShout | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, there are millions of Americans in total opposition to our president simply because he is who he is. They would rather see American fail on all fronts, than attribute a measure of success to the efforts of the President. As presidents go, this guy is giving it his best; but for some his best is not good enough. I wonder what the Muslim view of this country would be if there was not a constant spill of bias and hatred pointed toward this group every day in the media. I have not heard President Obama say one negative thing about Muslims since taking office. Since its happening on his watch though, I do not see the “Leader”, President Obama not taking responsibility for the ignorant racist contributing to this unfortunate statistic. Everyday, I DO MY BEST TO ASSIST THE PRESIDENT MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE. I ENCOURAGE MY IMMEDIATE CIRCLE OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO DO THE SAME. I can look back at twenty years of military service, and I have served under presidents I had absolutely no respect for as men; who did not serve, and left the country worse than it was when they assumed office. We all have faults, problems, issues, whatever. And so does this President. However, when I see President Obama the family man (some give more respect to a president who cheated on his wife in the oval office, than they do President Obama who epitomizes family man), the athlete, the courteous person, and the man who leads; it makes me proud to be an American. The funny thing is, things happen in my life when I served under presidents I had no respect for, and I was proud to be an American. So for all the haters, lets do our part to make the world better and stop looking to one man to do all the grunt work.

Posted by 304050 | Report as abusive