If Barack Obama disappoints his supporters, they will have only themselves to blame
如果巴拉克·奥巴马(Barack Obama)让其支持者失望了,那也只能怨他们自己!

IN JANUARY 2007 Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, said he was running for president to revive “our national soul”. He was not alone in taking an expansive view of presidential responsibilities. With the exception of Ron Paul, all the serious candidates waxed grandiloquent about their aims. John McCain said he modelled himself on Teddy Roosevelt, a man who “nourished the soul of a great nation”. Hillary Clinton lamented that America had no goals, and offered to supply some. And let us not forget the man they all sought to replace, George Bush, who promised, among other things, to “rid the world of evil”. Appalled by such hubris, a libertarian scholar called Gene Healy wrote “The Cult of the Presidency”, a book decrying the unrealistic expectations Americans have of their presidents. The book was written while Barack Obama’s career was still on the launch pad, yet it describes with uncanny prescience the atmosphere that allowed him to soar.
2007年一月,阿肯色州的前任州长麦克·哈克比(Mike Huckabee)宣称自己竞选总统是为了重塑“民族之魂”。他并不是唯一一个以如此自大的眼光看待总统职责的人。除了罗恩·保罗(Ron Paul),其余所有主要候选人都在往自己脸上贴金,大言不惭的鼓出自己的执政目标。约翰·麦凯恩(John Macain)表示,自己将以泰迪·罗斯福(Teddy Roosevelt)为榜样,因为后者“塑造了一个伟大国家的民族魂”。希拉里·克林顿(Hillary Clinton)因为觉得美国缺乏目标而痛惜不已,并且表示愿意为美国找寻前进的方向。还有,别忘了这些人力图要接替的那个家伙——乔治·布什(George Bush),他曾经在一堆承诺中表示要“让世界摆脱邪恶”。面对如此惊人的狂妄言论,一位叫做基恩·希利(Gene Healy)的自由论学者撰写了一部题为《总统崇拜》的书,公开反对美国民众对总统不切实际的期望。这本书是在巴拉克·奥巴马的事业还在起步阶段的时候写的,但是作者却不可思议的预见到了日后让他如日中天的大环境。

Mr Obama has inspired more passionate devotion than any modern American politician. People scream and faint at his rallies. Some wear T-shirts proclaiming him “The One” and noting that “Jesus was a community organiser”. An editor at Newsweek described him as “above the country, above the world; he’s sort of God.” He sets foreign hearts fluttering, too. A Pew poll published this week finds that 93% of Germans expect him to do the right thing in world affairs. Only 14% thought that about Mr Bush.

Perhaps Mr Obama inwardly cringes at the personality cult that surrounds him. But he has hardly discouraged it. As a campaigner, he promised to “change the world”, to “transform this country” and even (in front of a church full of evangelicals) to “create a Kingdom right here on earth”. As president, he keeps adding details to this ambitious wish-list. He vows to create millions of jobs, to cure cancer and to seek a world without nuclear weapons. On July 20th he promised something big (a complete overhaul of the health-care system), something improbable (to make America’s college-graduation rate the highest in the world by 2020) and something no politician could plausibly accomplish (to make maths and science “cool again”).

The Founding Fathers intended a more modest role for the president: to defend the country when attacked, to enforce the law, to uphold the constitution—and that was about it. But over time, the office has grown. In 1956 Clinton Rossiter, a political scientist, wrote that Americans wanted their president to make the country rich, to take the lead on domestic policy, to respond to floods, tornadoes and rail strikes, to act as the nation’s moral spokesman and to lead the free world. The occupant of the Oval Office had to be “a combination of scoutmaster, Delphic oracle, hero of the silver screen and father of the multitudes,” he said.
开国元勋们的本意是赋予总统一个更加朴实的职责:在遭受侵犯的时候保卫国家,以及执行法律和维护宪法——仅此而已。然而随着时间的推移,总统的职责也在不断增多。1956年,一位政治学者克林顿·罗希特(Clinton Rossiter)写道:美国人希望他们的总统能够让国家变得富足;能够领导制定国内政策;能够对付洪水、龙卷风或者是铁路罢工;能够担当国家道德品行的代言人;以及能够领导自由世界。他说:总统办公室的主人不得不“同时扮演童子军团长,德尔菲般的传神谕者,银幕英雄和民众的父亲等多个角色”。

The public mood has grown more cynical since then; Watergate showed that presidents can be villains. But Americans still want their commander-in-chief to take command. It is pointless for a modern president to plead that some things, such as the business cycle, are beyond his control. So several have sought dubious powers to meet the public’s unreasonable expectations. Sometimes people notice, as when Mr Bush claimed limitless leeway to tap phones and detain suspected terrorists. But sometimes they don’t. For example, Mr Bush was blamed for the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, although responding to natural disasters is largely a local responsibility. So he pushed Congress to pass a law allowing the president to use the army to restore order after a future natural disaster, an epidemic, or under “other condition[s]”, a startling expansion of federal power.

Mr Obama promised to roll back Mr Bush’s imperial presidency. But has he? Having slammed his predecessor for issuing “signing statements” dismissing parts of laws he had just signed, he is now doing the same thing. He vowed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, but this week put off for another six months any decision as to what to do with the inmates. Meanwhile, he has embraced Mrs Clinton’s curious notion that the president should be “commander-in-chief of our economy”, by propping up banks, firing executives, backing car warranties and so forth. Mr Healy reckons that Mr Obama is “as dedicated to enhancing federal power as any president in 50 years.”

The perils of over-promising

Nonsense, say his supporters. Taking over banks and car companies was a temporary measure to tackle a crisis. When the danger recedes, Mr Obama will pull back. The restructuring of General Motors, for example, is comfortably ahead of schedule. And far from lording it over Congress, the president has if anything abdicated too much responsibility to it.

These are all fair points. But Mr Healy’s warnings are still worth heeding. Mr Obama is clearly not the socialist of Republican demonology, but he is trying to extend federal control over two huge chunks of the economy—energy and health care—so fast that lawmakers do not have time to read the bills before voting on them. Perhaps he is hurrying to get the job done before his polls weaken any further. In six months, his approval rating has fallen from 63% to 56% while his disapproval rating has nearly doubled, from 20% to 39%. Independent voters are having second thoughts. And his policies are less popular than he is. Support for his health-care reforms has slipped from 57% to 49% since April.

All presidential candidates promise more than they can possibly deliver. This sets them up for failure. But because the Obama cult has stoked expectations among its devotees to such unprecedented heights, he is especially likely to disappoint. Mr Healy predicts that he will end up as a failed president, and “possibly the least popular of the modern era”. It is up to Mr Obama to prove him wrong.