Byline: James Fenton VIEW FROM AMERICA
PRESIDENT Barack Obama has gone back to the hustings, to help the Democrats retain their uncertain control of Congress in November's mid-term elections. For perfectly understandable reasons, he's unlikely to recapture the excitement of two years ago. In those days he was a novelty, and at the heart of his campaign was an extraordinary idea, seldom spelt out because it didn't have to be spelt out. The idea was that a black man, an African-American, might actually capture the presidency.
Leaving aside the question of what the racist tendency of the white electorate thought about this (white liberals were naturally ecstatic), there were plenty of black voters who simply shook their heads and said it couldn't happen. It couldn't happen because "they" wouldn't let it happen. Whoever "they" were, they would find some way to stop it.
Well, it happened. It's no longer an astonishing prospect, it's a familiar reality.
No one will be able to recreate the excitement of that election night, when voters in Harlem gaped in astonishment at the thought that this meant a son of theirs could do anything: could become President of the United States.
Today in Harlem when I eavesdrop on the old boys in their conversations, what they are expressing is not disillusionment with Obama himself. It is a sadness that the economy has not yet improved. "They" are blaming Obama for it, and that's not fair because after only two years he hasn't had a chance. "They" screwed the economy up in the first place. "They" will never give the President a break.
The old men are being generous, of course -- more generous than much of the press, from which we learn that Obama has lost his powers of communication, that he is remote, not well advised, that his stimulus package was not large enough to restart the economy, that he has been too cautious and that, in short, he is at least partly to blame for his poor showing in the polls. And all this is only the liberal version of the critique.
Leaving aside all the horror, hysteria and suspicion that Obama can still provoke on the Right -- a kind of dislike that it is almost a point of honour for such a politician to provoke -- there remains the spectacle of Democratic congressmen who would rather keep their distance from Obama as they face re-election, people who were too fearful of their electorates to support him on health care, candidates who would prefer to be seen with ex-President Clinton than accept support from the current White House.
Among these are several Democrats who preferred to vote with the Republicans to keep George W Bush's notorious tax cuts for the very rich -- cuts which are due to expire later this year, and which are responsible for a good part of the deficit. It had been hoped that a decision could be reached on these tax cuts before the mid-term elections. …