It’s happened by this point in every modern two-term presidency: If we weren’t sick of the guy to start with, we certainly are by now. What once seemed like roguish charm, or bracing surety, or nuanced intelligence, has curdled into self-indulgence, or arrogance, or passivity. Voters punish the president in the midterms; congressmen investigate him; political journalists, eager to cultivate sources in the coming campaigns, save all their nice adjectives for the presidents-in-waiting, and their aides.
But none of that is going to stop me from piling on, too. If a few things break Barack Obama’s way, history may well judge his presidency quite successful. As presidencies recede, we tend to focus on a few big achievements or failures, and Obama might eventually be seen to have staved off a depression; to have established a national health-care safety net; to have patiently set relations with China and Iran on a sounder footing (for details on the latter, see Robert D. Kaplan’s dispatch on page 17). Yet there’s one area where Obama has clearly failed so far: he’s done next to nothing to build confidence in government itself.