It's time to rate the first year of Barack Obama's Presidency. This is a natural time,
since the first anniversary of his inauguration is upon us. My assessment is a mixture of
disappointment and hope. I am one of the people saw in Obama what I wanted to see. I thought
he was in favor of change (I guess because he used the word so much). I wanted a lot of change.
I wanted a change in foreign policy, domestic policy, the environment, national security, and
a change away from exclusion and towards inclusion. I wanted to change the influence of the rich
and powerful and see the rise of organizations like MoveOn.org and other grassroots organizations.
I saw Obama as a progressive. I was wrong. He is a pragmatist and not a progressive. He has
yet to show me any issue where he will draw a line in the sand and refuse to budge (very similar
to Bill Clinton). He is a believer in the half-a-loaf philosophy of politics. He will accept
half-a-loaf rather than choose to be defeated over a principal. The result is usually not
satisfying and very frustrating. My initial read of his first year in office is he is willing
to accept much more of the status quo than I want him to accept; and he is far more mainstream
than I would like him to be.
Much to the chagrin of his enemies, most economists and observers believe the economic
stimulus package he pushed through Congress along with actions of the Federal Reserve prevented
a total economic meltdown. He inherited a number of disasters, but the economy was the most
pressing. The stock market, banking system, economic growth, and the jobs market are all better
now than they were when he took office. He accomplished this with virtually no help from the
Republicans. In fact, one of the most obvious characteristics of his first year is the total
abdication of responsibility by the Republican Party. It's obvious Republicans believed
anything he proposed they would oppose. Republican members of Congress publicly declared
their intention to bring the President down and adopted a scorched-earth policy towards his
legislative efforts. The pragmatist Obama seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate his
opponents and ignore his base. There was no principle he wouldn't negotiate over and he gave
power to regressive interests while ignoring the desires of those who worked hardest to get
him elected. In Obama's first year, being opposed to him got you far more access, attention,
and deference than any supporter was able to garner. The result has been a significant drop
in enthusiasm among his base which became evident in the Virginia and New Jersey governor's
races. His opponents are poised to turn out their base in droves for the midterm elections;
while his base may stay at home or find little motivation to make the calls and knock on the
doors necessary to get out the vote and win elections. This lack of enthusiasm has to be laid
directly at Obama's performance in his first year.
In foreign policy and national security areas the President set a new tone, but also
continued many of the policies of the Bush Administration. Obama supported a renewal of the
Patriot Act. He continues to use national security as an excuse in court to prevent
investigations into illegal conduct or abuses of the Bush Administration and to keep prying
eyes away from his own policies. He is on record as supporting the holding of prisoners without
charging them or bringing them to trial. Guantanamo was supposed to be closed by now. He used
executive orders to end torture and close secret prisons, but by avoiding congressional action
he is free to reverse those orders at any time. He has made an effort to change the world's
perception of American foreign policy including a speech in Cairo to the Muslim world. A recent
poll in Afghanistan shows a drop in support for terrorist attacks directed towards Americans.
However, his expanding the war in Afghanistan with no definition of victory and no
acknowledgement that he is deepening America's involvement in a deadly civil war. He initially
took a hard line on Israel, demanding a total freeze on new building in the settlements; but
has done nothing since Israel announced its intention to build hundreds of new houses in East
Jerusalem. His middle east policy has accomplished nothing so far.
Obama appointed the first Hispanic member of the Supreme Court. The jury is out as to
whether Sonia Sotomayor is a real progressive; but most observers feel she will be a balance
against the Scalia wing of the court.
The President has not pushed for true reform of Wall Street or banking regulations. While
Congress fiddles around the edges, no one is proposing real reform. Calls for regulation of
derivatives, returning to the days when investment banks were separate from FDIC-insured banks,
limits on energy speculation, and more transparency in the system have been ignored. Banks are
not lending to Main Street while continuing to engage in trading practices which caused the
economic problems to begin with. The President seems helpless to do anything about it.
The House passed an energy reform package including a cap and trade provision intended to
reduce the amount of greenhouse gases the U.S. produces. It is held up in the Senate and doesn't
have a great chance of passing.
In his first year, the President presented an image of a calm, deliberative leader who
doesn't rush into decisions and who does not panic easily. He projected an image abroad of
a man committed to diplomacy over unilateral military action; and he seems to have a vision
for how he wants the nation to progress.
President Obama reminds me alot of Bill Clinton. Why is it progressives seem all too
willing to compromise on issues of importance to them while regressives see no need for
accommodation? Compromise does not guarantee success despite the "half-a loaf is better than
none" philosophy. President Bush did not compromise on anything. He wanted to go to war in
Iraq and he did. He wanted to cut taxes for the rich and he did. He wanted to spy on
Americans illegally and he did and the Congress endorsed his actions. He wanted to pack the
Supreme Court with regressive Catholics and he did. He even wanted to get rid of the estate
tax so the uber-rich could transfer their wealth to their children tax free and he got that too.
Congress did not stop him once. He made no deals with progressives. The best position to be
in with Obama seems to be as his enemy or opponent (same as Clinton). He is willing to bend
over backwards to reward you and to seek out your opinion and input. He abandoned a public
option, expanded Medicare eligibility, a government-run insurance exchange of health plans,
the importation of drugs from Canada, and numerous other progressive ideas in order to get a
healthcare agreement. He continues the war in Afghanistan, has eased pressure on Israel, and
has no peace talks ongoing between Israel and the Palestinians; and like Clinton, he appears to
take his base for granted while courting his opponents and doesn't seem to get much out of
the deal. He is a pragmatist when so many of us wanted a progressive. Many want to compare
him favorably to Roosevelt and Johnson; but that seems a bit premature.
Obama's first year may be the toughest rookie year since Lincoln. Neither Roosevelt nor
Johnson had to conduct two wars while also confronting serious economic and domestic issues.
He could have been another Hoover and watched the economy implode; but instead acted quickly
to shore it up. He may sign the most sweeping social legislation since Medicare. Yet those
who fought to get him elected are troubled and restless. His party will take a hit in November.
How big a hit will depend on the unemployment rate, foreclosure rate, and whether Americans
believe we are getting our country back on track. He can expect no help from Republicans,
something even Johnson and Roosevelt didn't face. I am disappointed by his first year, but
is that his fault or my fault? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.
Please send them to email@example.com