Fouad Ajami writes the history of the present moment better than anyone else I know of, but, as with all such writing, the content tends to be obsolete before it’s published. His current essay on “The Obsolescence of Barack Obama” mainly confirms his own prophecies of last year, something not that much different from merely recycling previously announced themes. It’s no longer controversial at all to suggest that Barack Obama’s presidency has been the disappointment that the out-sized yet vexingly un-specific hopes placed in it always destined it to be.
It becomes possible to negate the negation of Barack Obama, especially when, in large ways and small, that first negation is based on things that don’t really make much sense on their own. For example, here is how Ajami describes an apparent contradiction in Obama’s program:
It was clear as daylight that there was a built-in contradiction between opening the citizenship rolls to a vast flood of new petitioners and a political economy of redistribution favored by the Obama administration. The choice was stark: You could either “spread the wealth around” or open the gates for legalizing millions of immigrants of lower skills. You could not do both.
The opening cliché strikes me as rather un-Ajamian – below his usual standards – but so is the thinking: Of course, we could “do both.” There is no conceptual contradiction between “opening the citizenship rolls” and “a political economy of redistribution.” There might, or might not, be much to say against combining the two policies on pragmatic or political grounds, and in particular configurations, but it’s “clear as daylight” that there is a perfect moral and philosophical consistency between the two positions. Bring in a few million more citizens, spread the wealth around a little wider – in all likelihood rather marginally, actually, considering that most of that “vast flood” is already settled into the landscape, using social services, working, sending kids to school, and so on. Within a progressive vision, the two ideas make perfect sense together. Simply to presume that they cannot both be accomplished, and to an overall positive effect within the context of a comprehensive political program, is to presume the result of an investigation before it’s been attempted – just as “The Obsolescence of Barack Obama” concludes the historical investigation before the presidency, or merely the first term, of Barack Obama is even half over…
I write as someone who was never “spellbound” by Obama, as someone who fervently hoped someone else would win the Democratic nomination, and then the presidency, and who once took pleasure in news, whenever, as today, that his “Presidential Approval Index” had hit an all-time low: Now that he’s over, perhaps he can begin. Now that the shadow of destiny has passed from him, perhaps he can realize his destiny.
As for myself, I’ve grown accustomed to him. He could fairly easily win my vote in 2012. It may help a lot that he’s not any of the people who seem to be preparing to run against him, saying what they think they need to say, representing what they think they need to represent.