William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
It was the word that electrified Americans five years ago; it was the audacious steed on whose back Barack Obama cantered into the White House. Hope drew 200,000 mesmerized Germans to the Brandenburg Gate to see Obama as a presidential candidate in 2008. It handed him a presumptive Nobel Peace Prize a year later.
Where is that hope now?
It wasn't in Berlin this week, where a paltry 4,500 turned out to hear now second-term President Obama refloat empty platitudes that were once half believable. And it's not within the hearts of the American public, only 46 percent of whom now support the president, according to the Real Clear Politics average of American polls.
"A leader is a dealer in hope," Napoleon Bonaparte famously noted. And at this point in his presidency, Barack Obama is neither. His presidency seems to be drifting without purpose or direction, and we can feel it.
Obama is a gifted orator with a teleprompter -- perhaps the best ever. But he's proven to be something of a one-trick-pony in that regard. Sure, he inspires. But he does not lead. That may be the one thing Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree upon, both of which have made it clear that the country may be better off with the president staying out of Washington's legislative affairs. They've practically begged Obama to stay away from the immigration debate for fear that he'll ruin it with over-politicization -- if that's possible.
What a waste. What a shame.
Political campaigns start far too early in this country, especially presidential races. But at this point in our history, it feels like 2016 speculation can't start soon enough. Because that's where hope lies now.
A scan of the field fails to yield another Barack Obama, but that's probably a good thing. Because while the ability to inspire is an important quality in a national leader -- it can carry people through tough times -- day-to-day managerial competence is what's missing. This country needs to move the ball forward in so many areas -- job growth, debt reduction, clear foreign policy goals -- it does not need more siren songs. We could use a Lyndon Johnson right now, or at least someone with his domestic legislative skills.
Former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, called Hillary Clinton the front-runner this week, and she's probably right. Benghazi aside, Hillary Clinton has shown great competence as a leader -- and an ability to forge relationships across the aisle. Some of her strongest admirers in the Senate while she was there were Republicans who came to respect her work ethic and her willingness to forge deals.
The Republican candidate who might best fit the bill right now is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Conservatives are upset with him for cozying up to Obama -- and maybe they'll block his way in 2016 -- but Christie is showing that he cares more about getting things done than about partisan politics. The same can't be said for a Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who started out well, but ended up choosing rhetoric over leadership in his second and third year in office.
The tea party firebrands, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, are interesting to watch, but can they successfully legislate? We'll see. If Florida Senator Marco Rubio can somehow steer an immigration bill through Congress, he'll have earned his stripes as a legitimate contender.
But one thing is clear: What we don't need any more of this country is empty, soaring rhetoric like we heard in Berlin again this week. We need doers.
In five years, we've gone from Obama's "This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," to the rest of us asking "Is there anyone else out there?" We're looking beyond the Obama presidency, because six months into its second term, it appears to be over.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.