The feminist writer and political activist Naomi Wolf, 49, is the author of The Beauty Myth. She recently published Vagina: A New Biography
So you know where I'm going here: I'm awfully disappointed. In terms of civil liberties his record has been shockingly, alarmingly disappointing. He has carried on the policies initiated by Bush's justice department of suppressing information under the guise of state secrets. I've been witnessing his personal appeal to pass the National Defence Authorisation Act, an unspeakable legislation that would give him the power to detain any US citizen indefinitely without charge or trial. He's covered up efforts to investigate torture. And Guantánamo still has almost 170 men in it who have never been charged or tried, and there's no hope of getting them out anytime soon.
It's hard to know how much power any American president has at this point in time. We're much more like many Latin-American "democracies" in which there is a nominal head of state who cannot really take on the military-industrial complex. But he could certainly have tried harder than he has.
Has there been anything positive about his presidency? The symbolic value of having an African-American president has certainly eased some racial tensions in America but they're not gone. We drew down some of our presence in Iraq and we're minimally drawing down some of our presence in Afghanistan but at the same time we're enshrining abuses in prison systems there that aren't going away. Has he passed important environmental legislation? I'm not aware of it. Has he bucked up the failing public schools? Not substantially. His big "achievement" is Obamacare, but I'm not at all sure that it isn't actually a gift for the insurance industry.
Has he changed the way Americans are perceived abroad? Yes, but not in a good way. He raised hope throughout the Middle East that he'd have a more international perspective and a more even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but if you go to Egypt now people feel incredibly betrayed. He's perceived as locking up Muslims against process and not punishing people who abuse Muslim prisoners. America used to stand for something in the world – we set a benchmark on human rights. Now we can't even challenge China for locking up Ai Weiwei, because we showed the world how to lock people up without charge or trial. If I could ask Obama one question, I'd ask him this: how do you sleep at night?
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