Following Obama during the New Hampshire primary, I saw a candidate who — though I disagreed with him on many issues — defended idealism and rhetoric against the supremely cynical Clinton machine, who brought a religious sensibility to matters of social justice, who took care to understand and accommodate the arguments of others, who provided a temperamental contrast to culture-war politics.
After just weeks of governing, that image seems like a brittle, yellowed photograph, buried at the back of a drawer.
Obama’s proposed budget shows all the vision, restraint and grace of a grasping committee chairman, using the cover of a still-unresolved banking crisis to push through a broad liberal wish list before anyone notices its costs and complications. The pledge of “responsibility” has become the massive expansion of debt, the constant allocation of blame to others and the childish cultivation of controversy with conservative media figures to favorably polarize the electorate. The pledge of “honesty” and “sacrifice” has become the deceptive guarantee of apparently limitless public benefits at the expense of a very few. The pledge of “bipartisan” cooperation has become an attempt to shove Republicans until their backs reach some wall of outrage and humiliation.