ANGOULEME, FRANCE—Dave Eggers preceded his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius with a section titled "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book." It's a brilliant attempt to disarm the reader and preempt criticism. Among its warnings, referring to chapter four: "The book thereafter is kind of uneven." (Disclosure: Eggers edited my work at two magazines in the '90s.)
Barack Obama shares Eggers' talent for managing expectations. "There will be false starts, there will be setbacks, there will be frustrations and disappointments," Obama said upon his arrival in Washington, D.C. "I will make some mistakes." In other words, don't expect much.
The soaring optimistic rhetoric of the campaign ("yes we can") is no more, replaced by the sober, string-synced cello strains of Yo-Yo Ma. So is Obama's million-dollar smile. The Dour One is demanding patience. And he's getting it, for now: "Most respondents [to the New York Times/CBS News poll taken Jan. 19] said they thought it would take Mr. Obama two years or more to deliver on campaign promises to improve the economy, expand health-care coverage and end the war in Iraq."
Setting the bar low seems to be working. Seventy-nine percent of Americans say they're optimistic about the next four years under Obama.
Sad, pathetic Americans. Like a dog that's been beaten eight long years, they're so psyched about the fact that their new master doesn't drool and speaks coherent English that they'll follow him anywhere. The media is in love with The One and so, therefore, is the public. No one questions him.
Frightening but true: Barack Obama is even more dangerous to liberal ideals than George W. Bush. Obama, who didn't appoint a single liberal to a senior position, has neutered the left. "Protesters, a fixture of every inauguration since President Nixon's in 1973, were few and scattered on Tuesday as Barack Obama assumed the presidency," reported the Times.
The antiwar types have thrown away their signs. The sight of the first black president has the fair weather pacifists goo-goo-ga-gaing over a man who plans to transfer U.S. occupation troops and the carnage they bring from Iraq to Afghanistan.
No demonstrators in the streets. No reporters asking tough questions. A political honeymoon based on nothing. Didn't we learn anything from 9/11, when 90 percent of Americans, and the media, and Congress, issued George W. Bush a similar blank check?
People think things will be better four years from now, but there's little reason for hope. America faces radical problems. Radical problems require radical solutions. Unfortunately, Obama's proposals, and the moderates and conservatives with whom he has filled his cabinet, are woefully inadequate to the challenges at hand.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman calculates that there's at least a $2.1 trillion hole in the economy—an "output gap" between production capacity and consumers' ability to buy goods. Filling that hole would require direct investment (like Obama's public works proposal) of at least $1.5 trillion. But Obama's plan only contains $355 billion, of which only $136 billion would be spent within the next two years. It's better than nothing, but not by much. Obama wants to plug a gushing artery with a Band-Aid one-tenth the size of the wound.
It's churlish to predict that Obama's approach won't work. But even Obama admits it won't. He promises to create 4 million new jobs by 2011. But we're currently losing 4 million jobs every five months. If Obama delivers, 25 million Americans will have lost their jobs by 2011. (The math differential is due to the fact that population growth increases the workforce by 2.8 million jobs annually.) With unemployment figures like that, no one will doubt that we're in a real depression: bread lines, suicides, the whole bit.
Obama's order to close Guantanamo and the CIA's secret "black site" torture prisons within a year is heartening. But as with his other initiatives, it doesn't go far enough. The detainees should have been freed, paid a generous compensation package, and given a formal apology from the U.S. government on Day One of his administration. Gitmo should have been shuttered immediately. All the torture criminals from Bush to the U.S. Navy guards should have been thrown in prison and put on trial.
Instead, Obama's goons (they're his now) will keep torturing the detainees for at least another year. Some detainees may still be subjected to kangaroo courts. And Obama's executive orders contain weasel words that let him take back America's renewed commitment to constitutional rights with the snap of a finger. The orders, reports the Times, "could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the CIA's detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of al-Qaida were captured."
Meanwhile, the Bush administration creeps who personally ordered the murder and torture of innocents kidnapped by the military, including young children, will not face prosecution.
During the campaign, Obama promised there would be "no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens." He has since changed his mind. Obama will keep the USA-Patriot Act. Habeas corpus, eliminated by the Military Commissions Act, won't come back.
The biggest reason hope doesn't stand a chance is Afghanistan, where Obama plans to send the soldiers he wants to pull out of Iraq. The international community, which understands that the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan had no more to do with 9/11 than the war against Iraq, will not take kindly to this escalation. Moreover, the war against Afghanistan is even less winnable than Iraq. At a time when we can least afford foreign adventurism, Obama plans to pour billions of dollars and thousands of lives into an Afghan charnel house with no prospect of victory.
Bush faced energetic opposition. Obama, on the other hand, is adored by the very people who should be shouting at him the loudest. Conservatives lost their credibility by supporting Bush, leaving Republican voices out in the cold.
Give the man a chance? Not me. I've sized up him, his advisers and their plans, and already found them sorely wanting. It won't take long, as Obama's failures prove the foolishness of Americans' blind trust in him. Obama isn't our FDR. He's our Mikhail Gorbachev: likeable, intelligent, well-meaning, and ultimately doomed by his insistence on being reasonable during unreasonable times.
Ted Rall is the author of To Afghanistan and Back: A Graphic Travelogue and Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? He draws cartoons and writes columns for Universal Press Syndicate.