It is hard to remember how much better things are in America today than they were four years ago when Barack Obama took the oath of office for the first time.
Then, we were in the middle of two raging wars, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
Now, one of those wars is ending, the other is over, and the most hated and feared man in recent times, Osama bin Laden, is dead.
Then, we were in the throes of an economy on a dizzying downward slide, the worst and most frightening recession since the Great Depression.
Now, while many of our fellow citizens are still looking for work and can’t find it, or are working in jobs that don’t meet their wants and needs, unemployment is heading downward and housing prices are heading upward.
It may not be “morning in America” — the theme of Ronald Reagan’s successful reelection campaign in 1984 — but it is not midnight, either. We did not go over the fiscal cliff.
So why doesn’t it feel better?
When I think back on the first Obama inauguration, it seemed to be a moment of optimism and celebration.
When I think on this one, it was Monday. I almost forgot to turn on the speech. It seemed like a very nice speech, but if you asked me to remember a single line just one day later, I’d be stumped.
When I asked other people what they thought of it all, I heard more opinions about Michelle’s new hairdo (the bangs — people loved them or hated them; does she really look like Flip Wilson’s long-lost twin) than about the president’s words or the power of the moment.
There is an old saying in Washington that watching legislation get through Congress is like watching sausage being made. Not pretty.
But it’s not just the legislative process that has turned ugly and off-putting. It’s almost everything that has anything to do with politics. It’s the endless fundraising and spending and attacking; the endless noise of screaming extremism; the nastiness of virtually every aspect of our political life, intensified by the constancy of the drone.
I used to love politics. I spent much of my youth reading political novels and dreaming of the day when I would go to Washington and change the world, the day when I would know my way around the halls of Congress, see inside the White House, be a part of it. I will never forget my first summer as an intern in Washington, the thrill of all that, up close. I will never forget the first time I walked into the White House, the West Wing, when a friend was working there. I pinched myself. Susan Estrich in the West Wing? Only in America.
I don’t love politics anymore. As my mother would say, what’s to love? It’s always been a tough business, but now it’s beyond tough. It’s mean and ugly and nasty.
Obama kept more of the promises he made in his first inaugural address than most presidents. He tackled the failing economy, the unpopular and expensive wars, the needs of millions of Americans for access to health care. He got things done. And I expect he will continue to do so, as he always has, by picking off the necessary handfuls of Republicans he needs in the House and Senate.
He has figured out how to work the system — not change it.
This is not the business I fell in love with, even when my side is winning. And I have no faith, none, that one man, the one sworn in on Monday, the embodiment of hope just four short years ago, can change that.