Barack Obama is a Black man. In an ideal world we would hardly notice but in this world it’s an issue. He was the first Black man ever elected to America’s highest office. Indeed, the first “man-of-any-color-other-than-white” ever to be elected. As he approaches his final year in office questions are being asked as to, “Why was he elected?” and “Was it worthwhile?” These are not unusual questions; they come at the end of every administration, but Mr. Obama’s skin color gives them a special context.

Obviously, Barack Obama is a highly intelligent and charismatic individual who was able to put together a quality team in his run for office. He can speak and write well and his natural, open personality drew supporters from all walks of life. A few pundits early on bravely questioned if America was ready for a Black president and, I believe, the discussion that followed helped him. Many people root for an underdog, (I almost said “dark horse” but realized it might be misunderstood. You have to be so careful in these situations.) When the long shot wins this represents hope in a world that often falls short of it. Of course, minorities of all kinds also saw Mr. Obama as a shining example of what America should stand for. If a Black man could rise to the highest office in a land where once he would have been sold on an auction block, it must mean that everyone has a chance. Everyone should finally have a right to equal treatment.

Besides minorities, those living in poverty also supported Obama because a high proportion of those are people of color and he should, therefore, have a connection to, and understanding of, their wants and needs. Add in liberals in the middle class, and beyond, who believe strongly in the creation and preservation of rights and freedoms, and who better to carry their banner – a man who has felt the sting of racism and bigotry.

It was a lot to live up to. So how did Obama do? First, it has to be stated that he had at least one major advantage. He arrived in Washington without a great deal of political baggage. He wasn’t a career politician who carried the sacrifices of many years spent forging compromises between voters and political bosses. There were not a lot of skeletons in his closet. On the downside, when he won he walked into a monster financial mess that would take years to clean up, and it absorbed much of his early focus. Still, given the seriousness of the problems caused by such a mess, and the self-centered evil that caused it, little was accomplished toward preventing it happening again, and even less was done to punish the perpetrators. The financial crisis brought about a near world-wide recession, cost many thousands, perhaps even millions, of people their life savings, and was created by rich people trying to get even richer – so why was accountability and restitution largely absent under a President who was supposed to be standing up for the little guy? It wasn’t an auspicious start to his presidency.

Then there were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said he would wind them down but in the end he even ramped them up for awhile and claimed a partial victory before pulling out. If what he left is some form of success I can’t see it. Afghanistan is working its way back to what it was while Iraq is involved in a war to create a state whose primary goal is to wipe America and Western style democracies off the face of the Earth.

One strong plank in Obama’s platform was to fold up the Guantanamo facility, because it was about taking American prisoners to a place outside of America’s jurisdiction where they wouldn’t have the protection of American laws. Once there, methods were used on them to extract information not legal in the United States. (It’s called torture in some circles.) He’s had eight years to achieve that commitment and, surprise, surprise, he hasn’t.

As for enhancing America’s image as the world’s chief defender of freedom and democracy; besides tacitly ignoring what goes on at Guantanamo, the “Big Brother” power of the NSA has increased tremendously under Obama and so, apparently, has secrecy within government. This information comes to us courtesy of a few brave whistleblowers who were subsequently denied legitimacy and persecuted to the fullest extent of the law, (and, perhaps, beyond) – even when courts ruled that at least a portion of what they exposed was illegal and against the government’s stated policy. If this is how the United States expects to exemplify the superiority of their system, and convince the people of foreign nations to advocate for a similar way of life, I doubt if it has become an easier sell.

It was my understanding that one reason the Founding Fathers of the United States chose to create a government where the President is elected independently of Congress is because they believed selecting someone from outside the traditional legislative path – arising directly from the people – would give greater voice and increased representation to the electorate.

The President is supposed to represent the greatest good for the greatest number - to speak directly for the people - in a system that might otherwise be overpowered by special interests, and when Obama ran for President that is what the people saw in him. He appeared to be an inspirational leader, one that would stand up and fight for truth in the face of all the usual obfuscations. American Presidential elections appear to focus on finding an outsider, perhaps even a rebel, to face off against the jaded, navel-gazing insiders who traditionally run the country. In Obama, Americans believed they had found such a man; a visionary, one with the intellectual strength and energy to defend their constitutional values against the small minded selfishness that so inhabits much of modern politics – and what they got instead was a classic administrator, one who put his faith in diplomacy and lived for compromise, all the while protecting a system badly in need of challenging.

There is an old Monty Python skit where a man knocks on a door and the person inside asks, “Who is it?” and the man replies, ”Burglar.” Except the person inside doesn’t believe him and questions the man further, “You’re sure you’re not an encyclopedia salesman?” “Oh, no,” responds the man “I am absolutely a burglar.” So the person inside opens the door and immediately the man starts trying to sell a set of encyclopedias. It looks to me like America voted for a burglar and what they got was an encyclopedia salesman.