To be in Europe is to realize, again and at first hand, that America has experienced a status shift. Europeans know we are powerful—we have the most drones and bombs and magic robot soldiers—but they don’t think we are strong. They’ve seen our culture; we exported it. The Internet destroyed our ability to keep under wraps, at least for a while, our embarrassments. People everywhere read of our daily crimes and governmental scandals. The people of old Europe thought we were great not only because we were wealthy but because we were good. We don’t seem so good now. And they know we’re not as wealthy as we were.
In these circumstances it would be quite wonderful to have a leader who is a deeply believing enthusiast who could tell the world—and us—that we can, and will, turn it all around.
Pollsters always say a politician has to project optimism. I think what they have to project is belief, and when people see it they appreciate it and become more optimistic. Does Mr. Obama project belief? Or does he project something more like doubt, or inertia? How wonderful it would be to see an American president appreciate all the possibilities of becoming a great energy-producing nation—all the new technologies and jobs, all the rebound they’d bring. To have a leader who feels and conveys a palpable joy in the transformative nature of this new world. Instead what we see is a ticket-checking approval, coupled with a wary, base-pandering, foot-dragging series of decisions such as the latest delay of the Keystone pipeline. It looks like a kind of historical lethargy, or listlessness.