Washington and New York aren't typical of America, of course, but travelling through these cities, I am surprised by how unpopular Barack Obama has become. Even among Democrats (and there are a lot of those in both cities). The mood is one of disappointment, and promise unfulfilled.
Odd, you might think, given that Obama has successfully steered through the passage of the healthcare bill, his flagship measure, in the teeth of Republican opposition. But frankly, that again is just a promise, and people actually want to know how the measure will impact on them before they start cheering too loudly. And while the one success is merely promise, the failures are real. Obama's economic package was sold on the basis that unemployment could soar past 8% without it. Well, it's already done that, standing at about 10%. The signs are all around. The overseas wars seem to be carrying on as strongly as ever. No change there.
Perhaps the most significant disappointment, however, is that Obama promised to break the mould of partisan, Republicans vs Democrats politics. Sick of Washington's name-calling political culture, that was something that thousands of independents wanted to hear. But the healthcare debate became a straight fight between the parties, and Obama seemed quite unable to get minds to meet. Indeed, his measure seems, to the independents, to have made partisan divisions worse.
And it is independent-minded citizens who are behind America's astonishing Tea Party movement and all those Town Hall meetings. Ordinary citizens, just fed up with politics and politicians, wanting to get them out of their hair. It's a powerful national movement that has taken the politicians unawares.
Is there a message here for David Cameron? His Big Society concept seems a refreshing alternative to the Big Government obsessions of politicians from all sides. A society in which the power of self-determination is returned to citizens. It would be a powerful election slogan, like Obama's. And the lesson is that, if elected, he actually has to deliver this thing that independent voters are yearning for. If it turns out to be business as usual, his government won't last the year.
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