Barack Obama came to the White House with the ambition to nudge his country to the left – to make the US a bit less like the US and a little more like Europe. He recognised his nation’s great strengths, he said, but wanted to address its weaknesses. Inequality was getting out of hand; schools were letting children down, especially those from poor families; the safety net had too many holes, especially the failure to guarantee access to healthcare.
A revision to the social contract was required. But nothing too radical, he implied: it could all be put right without undoing the “American exception”.
The electorate liked the sound of that. Mr Obama won a comfortable victory, taking office with sky-high approval ratings and a remarkable sense of possibility. Less than a year on, voters are having second thoughts.
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