Christina Lamb in Washington
WHEN President Barack Obama’s secret service codename was revealed as Renegade and his wife Michelle’s as Renaissance, the names seemed perfect for a first couple who had come to Washington to shake things up.
More than a year into the Obama administration, with healthcare yet to be reformed, Wall Street banks continuing to pay huge bonuses and Guantanamo Bay prison still open, that mood of hope has turned to disillusion. Obama’s policy of engagement has yielded no progress in the Middle East or Iran; the war in Afghanistan continues to exact a big toll in lives and dollars; while the heaviest snow in Washington for 90 years seems to have stymied any hope of climate change legislation.
The president and his team now find themselves under fire for mishandling Congress from everyone from senior Democrats to social columnists. Critics say that by failing to move on from the “us versus them” feeling of the Obama election campaign, they have united an opposition that was in disarray. The result is legislative paralysis despite the biggest Democratic majority in 30 years.
Last week a prominent Democratic senator resigned after criticising both government and Congress. Evan Bayh from Indiana, who had never lost a race and was expected to be re-elected in November, complained that the party’s recent loss of the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy should have been seen as a wake-up call.
“Moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said.
“They don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems.”
Even society writers are disenchanted. “The Obama White House has closed ranks. They were completely overwhelmed by the new office,” said Karen Sommer Shalett, editor-in-chief of DC magazine. “I haven’t heard of them going to any house parties or Georgetown row houses to be entertained.