A new president inherits acts carried out by the previous president. In particular, he has to battle with the repulsive and try to improve it. It may be unfair to inherit a mess but a presidency doesn’t begin with a blank slate. Obama inherited big messes — huge messes, actually. Bush’s huge messes formed the basis of the Democratic political campaign. It was inspiring to create a hopeful speech for a people in crisis, with a high poverty rate, a middle class more impoverished than the generation before, an army caught up in a war precipitated by false evidence, a public education system stripped of resources and their international prestige in ruins. The light projected by Obama’s words reached beyond the borders of the United States; many believed a radical change was possible in the way politics is conducted. It cannot be said that no fundamental changes have taken place — the essential one being that George W. Bush has left the White House, which in itself is a huge step forward, even if anti-Americanism invariably concludes that all American politicians are cut from the same cloth. Today, it’s those same American Democrats who seem the most discouraged with the man who caused tears of emotion on the day of his victory. The Guantánamo papers, which bear testimony to what happened in that prison up until 2009, illustrate how repulsive issues are the responsibility of the one governing, even if created by the previous leader.
Guantánamo is not the main concern for Americans, but it represents a shameful, illegal, unacceptable stain. It’s true that its closure isn’t solely dependent on the president’s will, but its survival shows a great lack of character. And you can’t govern without character, no matter how good your intentions or how big your promises.