That was the theme of his defining speech at the Democratic convention in 2004, with its famous line: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America.”
It was to be the theme of his presidency. So, when an ideologically implacable Republican opposition, in his very first days in office, threw the vision back in his face, adopting a policy of scorched-earth opposition, the rejection was about more than policy — it affected his very being. The dreams from his father were at an end and he was left, as he only slowly realized, with the themeless pragmatism that has become the hallmark of his administration.
Unable to find common ground with the Republican opposition, he cut deals with the other powers that immediately surround the presidency: the military and security apparatus, big pharmaceutical companies, big banks and big media.
Perhaps more important was the permission that he gave himself for violence and suppression of rights: drone strikes that have killed children as well as terrorists, the futile “surge” in Afghanistan, the continued operation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, reliance on military tribunals, an unprecedented campaign against whistle blowers, and the assertion of a right to order the assassination of foreigners and Americans alike at his sole discretion.
All this, too, stood behind the performance of the man on stage during the second two debates. And if he is elected, it is this man who will govern. The Obama of 2008 is not back. He is not coming back. He is gone forever.
Jonathan Schell is a fellow at The Nation Institute and a visiting fellow at Yale University.
Copyright: Project Syndicate