Barack Obama arrived in Washington in 2008 fully confident he could deliver on the
“change you can believe in” rallying cry of his historic presidential campaign.
In many ways, however, Washington has changed Obama more than Obama haschanged Washington.The most significant change of the last four years may be the evolution that occurredwithin Obama himself. The idealist of the 2008 campaign has become a hard-nosed pragmatist after a series of bruising battles with Republicans in Congress. The man whoonce promised a new kind of politics has become a partisan warrior running a bare-knuckles re-
election campaign. It’s a metamorphosis that has cheered many of his most
ardent supporters, who long hoped for a stronger advocate for liberal causes. But it hasalso disillusioned many Americans who believed he could bring the country together andtransform Washington into a place where problem solving overcame party politics.During his campaign, Obama promised to end the war in Iraq. He pledged to fix the
country’s broken health
-care system. And in the final weeks of his campaign, he vowedurgently to find the tools to prevent another Great Depression. But more than anything,his aspiration to create a post-partisan politics gave a special lift to his candidacy andcreated outsize expectations for his presidency.The call for change, for a new politics shorn of bitterness and red-blue divisions had
long been at the heart of Obama’s political persona. He wove that message into every
important speech of the campaign, from his announcement in February 2007 all the wayto his inauguration speech. By then, however, Democrats and Republicans on CapitolHill were already at odds over an economic stimulus program. Republicans call thestimulus battle the original sin of the Obama presidency. White House officials mark it asthe moment when hope and change collided with Republican intransigence.During his first year in office, Obama saw his approval ratings sink and the loss of theDemocrats filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority with the triumph of Scott Brown (R)in Massachusetts. But in March 2010, the president managed to rally the troops and passhistoric health-care reform legislation expanding coverage to 32 million Americans andoutlawing certain insurance company practices like refusing to cover those with
preexisting conditions. “This is what change looks like,” Obama proclaimed post
-vote.But the president headed into 2010 with several hurdles to implementing hislegislative agenda, which included a major financial regulatory reform package and a jobs bill. At the start of that year, he assumed a more populist tone and proposed aspending freeze in his 2011 budget for discretionary spending, along with a tax on big banks to calm public furor over large compensation packages.Though those initiatives seemed designed to channel a middle course, they angered
the president’s liberal base, which wanted the public option included in the health
measure. Obama’s left
-flank was also irate about a December 2009 decision to send30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.