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Why 'Hope and Change' is dead, 'Forward' lives

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed May 2, 2012
Host Jimmy Kimmel, right, greets President Obama after Kimmel's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Host Jimmy Kimmel, right, greets President Obama after Kimmel's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In 2008, "Hope and Change" was Obama slogan; this year it's "Forward"
  • LZ Granderson says President Obama's ambitions have been scaled back
  • He says economy, D.C. dysfunction, GOP opposition have gotten in the way
  • Granderson says Romney's flip-flops make it hard for him to hold Obama accountable

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- During the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday night, Jimmy Kimmel made a joke that President Obama laughed at, but that you could see was just killing him inside.

"Mr. President, do you remember when the country rallied around you in hopes of a better tomorrow?" Kimmel asked. "That was hilarious. That was your best one yet."

Yeah it was.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

I'm sure he still has a lot of hope. But I would dare to say the thing that changed most over these past three years is Obama. The unbridled optimism that his first campaign once embodied has been bludgeoned by dogmatism, pragmatism and bipartisan cronyism.

Hope and change are tough when the worst economy in 80 years is waiting to greet you at the door.

Hope and change are challenging when Rush Limbaugh, the unofficial gatekeeper of the conservative movement, tells his troops "I hope Obama fails" before your first day on the job.

Hope and change are virtually impossible when working with a Congress so dysfunctional that its approval rating never reached 25% in all of 2011 and was as low as 10% in February.

No wonder his hair is a bit grayer these days.

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And no wonder the new Obama slogan is "Forward."

"Hope and Change" captured the heart of a people who believed one man could change the culture of Washington. "Forward" acknowledges things are not where he said they would be, but takes ownership of a record that shows he at least has us pointed in the right direction: 12 consecutive months of job losses before he took office, 25 consecutive months and counting of job growth since 2010.

It's not as sexy, but at least it's honest.

After all, Guantanamo Bay is still open.

Unemployment is still above 8%.

Housing prices are still low.

This is why probably why Mitt Romney felt comfortable enough to send out this tweet: "The promises that candidate Obama made are very different than what President Obama delivered."

Embedded in the tweet was a video, showing Obama in 2008 promising to go through the federal budget line by line to cut fat, and then fast forwarding to today with stats about the growing debt and the nearly $1 million wasted on the now infamous GSA conference.

Had another challenger posted the ad, it would have landed a solid right hook to Obama's re-election bid.

But it was Romney, so it was more like a boomerang -- an aggressive attack sent out but ultimately coming back to its sender. The last person who should want to start a video rewind contest is Romney, who has enough flip-flops and broken promises captured on film that he could start his own network.

Nonetheless, while the messenger is a bit shaky, the overall message is not. Obama has indeed fallen short on quite a few of the promises he's made over the years.

And the campaign slogan "Forward" reflects those shortcomings and challenges: obstructionist Republicans determined to bring him down, self-serving Democrats too scared to pass a budget, and a public so dense that at one point it thought Donald Trump would make a good president.

But at the end of the day, Obama has only himself to blame for the malaise of disappointment that has draped much of his presidency. A disappointment, mind you, that has less to do with his actual policy than with his inability to reach the ridiculously high bar he set for himself over the years.

Tweets like Romney's are not necessarily fair -- after all, nothing happens in a vacuum -- but Obama was the one who made all of the promises. He was the one who set the standard. He is the one sitting in his own prison. I doubt he'll ever say it, but I bet if he had a chance to do it all over again, he would underbid rather than overbid his hand.

Romney will continue to hammer away at what Obama hasn't done -- and he should -- if for no other reason than hoping to distract voters from seeing all of the things Obama has accomplished.

Like preventing insurance companies from denying people with pre-existing conditions, courtesy of the flawed but helpful Affordable Care Act; overturning "don't ask, don't tell;" appointing two women to the Supreme Court. Getting Osama bin Laden.

That was one of candidate Obama's promises, you know.

In 2007 he said he would get bin Laden, even if it meant going into Pakistan. This week marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama delivering on that promise. Funny, for some reason that clip didn't make it into Romney's ad.

I'm sure it was an oversight.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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