Most of the world, with the notable exception of the miscalculating political leadership in Israel, is breathing a great sigh of relief that Barack Obama has prevailed over Mitt Romney.

The vote for Romney was a negative vote, an anti-Obama vote. Of those voting for Romney many were not voting for the man, since it is almost impossible to predict what he would do if elected to the Oval Office. Other than wanting the job, Romney stood for very little, having flip-flopped on dozens of issues, in some instances even during his campaign.

Likewise, many votes for Obama this time round were actually votes against the horrific prospect of a country club presidency and a Tea Party vice-presidency. Yet as the majority vote will show Americans are exceedingly unhappy with President Obama.

Possibly the most erudite, cerebral, knowledgeable, not to mention handsome man to be president, Obama was seen as the great hope of liberals, of the poor and downtrodden, of the faltering middle class. It was of course naive to think that once in office Obama would really rock the boat.

In the euphoria of his initial election I was criticised by his fan base for not being very enthusiastic. Yet I believed I had identified the fatal flaw in Obama. Perhaps it was the responsibility he felt as the first black president and a yearning to belong, but Obama wanted to be the most popular man in the history of America. He wanted to unite America and not be seen as the reason for further polarising the country. He also wanted to be re-elected to a second term. His strategy has worked for him.

President Obama soon put distance between himself and that great outpouring, the inspiring groundswell that had brought him to office. Instead, he decided to play politics the old-fashioned way, the dirty little game behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, not to put too fine a point on it – the corrupt way.

Without encouraging his popular support to maintain pressure on him in the White House to do the right thing, to pursue his mandate with the same vigour that Republicans muster as soon as they get in office, Obama squandered his advantage. Remember, at this time, Democrats had both houses of congress.

The next time the electorate spoke the disillusionment among Obama supporters in his mid-term became apparent. Obama’s self-inflicted wounds and all the compromises he made in the vain hope of saving conservative democrat candidates in vulnerable seats in the congressional elections backfired. And despite his conciliatory actions, the opposition to him only became more emboldened, the attacks from the right increasingly strident, and often, yes, racist. America is today as polarised, if not more so, as the day he took office.

Obama’s appeasement tactics are inherently wrong; they are about making political deals and not honouring his campaign promises. Obama’s defenders (and apologists) point to an unsalvageable political system. But he undoubtedly imposed limits on himself.

What cannot be denied is that Obama never built on his massive popular support. Instead he allowed it to dissipate. It was a one-night stand. Hip-hop was never again going to be on his campaign playlist. The more resilient gave up on him and started Occupy Wall Street. Tellingly, Obama kept them at a distance too. The revolving door between the White House and Wall Street was in full operation. The rich were richer than ever, the Bush tax cuts extended. Climate change was dropped from the agenda. Obama stopped telling the American public the truth. Obama’s health plan turned into Romneycare from years back. Not only is Guantanamo Bay still open, but Obama signed into law the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial (it’s worth noting that even many Republicans disapproved). The war in Iraq was privatised. Torture continued through proxies. And something just as shameful, as vile, as unconstitutional, as indefensible as torture, became standard operating procedure – drone strikes and assassination, not only against foreign but American citizens, by his executive order.

Contrary to popular belief, Obama has been a very good president for the economy and possibly his single greatest achievement was rescuing the US if not the world from entering a depression after the 2008 meltdown. And ironically, he has been a lousy president in bringing about “change”, what his popular support hoped for and Republicans feared.

On the eve of his second term, the question remains: will Obama now finally do what all those who dreamed of a new America and placed their hope and trust in him asked? And if he is stonewalled and filibustered and hamstrung by the political system, will he at the very least speak out for what is right? Will he start to tell America the truth?

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  • Brent Meersman is a writer based in Cape Town. He is co-editor of and a columnist for This is Africa. His most recent novel is Five Lives at Noon (2013), and his previous novels are Primary Coloured (Human & Rouseau, 2007) and Reports Before Daybreak (Umuzi-Random House, 2011). He has been writing for the Mail & Guardian since 2003. Follow him on Twitter or visit


Brent Meersman

Brent Meersman is a writer based in Cape Town. He is co-editor of and a columnist for This is Africa. His most recent novel is Five Lives at Noon (2013), and his previous novels are Primary...

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