President Obama is now caught between memory and reality, between the ecstatic experience of campaigning and the stringent expectations of governing. Promises made (or, more aptly, vaguely suggested) are not promises delivered. And oftentimes they shouldn't be and wouldn't be. Wise men and women know this. So they also know that their candidate's victory on election day is also a prelude to a gradual but inevitable incline of disenchantment.
I was lucky. I was for Barack Obama early and, as the old Boston pols used to say, also often. I contributed the legal maximum with some more to various party coffers. I campaigned in Florida (where "the Jewish vote" was said to be in contest, which it wasn't) and my family campaigned in Cleveland where, in a way, the whole election was decided. We won. But I was not mesmerized. And I had no illusions that the reign of virtue was just around the corner.
In fact, my view of virtue was rather different than that of the mass of Obama's supporters, at least at the beginning of the campaign. I did not think that our government or society was evil. Not by a long shot. And I more than half-intuited that our candidate did not believe that either. I did have one difference with him. I am not a temperamental optimist. So I did not easily believe "Yes, we can" as a general proposition. There are lots of times when I say "No, we can't." Or maybe that we'll just muddle through. Obama has my faith with the country's economic tribulations. But perhaps that's because I'm an acolyte of Larry Summers.
I don't know what the left-wing blogosphere is making of the president's recantation of his administration's arrangement with the American Civil Liberties Union to release (more) photographs of ill-treated prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeff Zeleny has written an admirably clear story on this for the New York Times. But, frankly, I wondered why the government had ever agreed to this bargain. Maybe it felt trapped in its campaign rhetoric or, more accurately, the expectations of some of its supporters.
The pandemonium for pictures strikes me as more than a bit pornographic on the part of the A.C.L.U. and its fellow-travelers. The organization seems to me no longer to be a civil liberties agency but an advocacy group whose aims are varied. One of them, I suggest, is that it is against the established foreign policy of the United States, which is perfectly O.K. and certainly legal. But it is not about judicial justice, which is its disguise and cover.
In fact, I more than suspect that the argument made by administration supporters on this matter--that publishing the photographic revelations, such as they are, would further endanger our troops in west Asia--would be just fine with the organization. (It would, as the surviving Marxists still say, multiply the contradictions.) I happen to believe that this is a dicey justification in the sense that it might not be true. I don't think that the Muslim fanatics in Iraq and the Taliban and their allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan need added visuals to justify their zeal to murder.
The reason not to indulge ourselves in a photographic confessional is simply that "enough is enough." It isn't as if the country needs more division, which would be an axiomatic consequence of the deal. America has its own intrinsic divisions around the economic calamity against which we are still struggling. The more we are in unison the better off we are. Beating Richard Cheney should be gratifying only to sadists, like the ones at Abu Ghraib.