Obama did not, and could not, live up to his 2008 campaign rhetoric, but that doesn't mean he was a failure
In a sense Obama's greatest selling point last election — the wild optimism his speeches inspired — is one of his weaknesses now. Obama did not, and could not, live up to his 2008 campaign rhetoric, but that doesn't mean he was a failure.
With the US economy in its deepest recession since the 1920s, Obama was never going to have an easy ride — and without his intervention, things could have been much worse. In 2008, he acted decisively in introducing a stimulus package and bailing out the US car industry. The US economy hasn't exactly bounced back, and unemployment is a serious problem, but US GDP is now 2.2% higher than its pre-recession peak, which is more than you can say for most of Europe or Japan.
In some areas he has brought about radical change: by extending healthcare to 30 million Americans, and introducing the Dodd-Frank act. If he's also often been ineffective at pushing reforms through Congress, to what extent can Obama be held responsible for the intractable Republican right wing? Romney will have the same nutty fringe to deal with — and he will be more likely to give in to them — as he's shown by his drift towards the right following his stint as governor of Massachusetts.
When it comes to foreign policy too, Obama may not have lived up to the vastly over-inflated expectations placed on him beforehand, but he's proved less hawkish than Bush and yet interventionist when needed. We already know that Romney's forays into international affairs has been, sorry, Romneyshambolic. Romney would instantly freeze-up relations with China, advocates potentially devastating military action against Iran and is seen as too doggedly pro-Israel to be a peaceful influence in the Middle East.
It might seem a cop-out to write a defence of Obama that focusses mainly on the opposition – but I can't resist adding that Romney apparently and despite his track record, supports the overturning of Roe v Wade and would repeal Obama's healthcare laws.
But Obama is not only the lesser of two evils — he may not have lived up to his early promise, but that early promise was unrealistic. He was dealt a difficult hand and has nevertheless at times shown decisive, progressive and inspiring leadership — a second term may give him more time to live up to this potential.