Friday, January 22, 2010


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 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


  1. Bernie - Obama is supporting Bernanke for a second term.

    Need I say more?

    It's sad to see Obama trying to dip into his "populist" rhetoric one more time to gain the enormous support he had a year ago. The support
    he now will never regain.

    But the game is over. With the latest Supreme court 5-4 ruling that lets corporations now spend whatever they want on elections - it doesn't take Einstein to figure out what will
    soon follow.

    I am sad for this country and what is ahead of us. It is even more ironic that Americans will
    vote for the very people who will doom this country into terrible poverty and unemployment for probably the next decade. And we will also
    see foreign wars continue unabated - once Republicans return to power. And I have no doubt
    this will happen soon.

    Obama had one shot at it and the guy didn't have
    faith in himself or the actual progressive policies he gained support on. In the end, it really is Obama's failure - and this failure is
    going to cause millions to suffer in the next
    few years.

    Myself: I'm tacking down the bulwark of my ship. I'm heading out - will no longer participate in a corrupt society with a corrupt government. I'm out for good. I have lost all hope for this country - and am going to start focusing my attention elsewhere - where there might be more hope. Perhaps spending more of my energy focusing on spiritual issues.

    Thanks for some great BLOG posts.

  2. Bernie
    It's sad to think that Jamenta has lost hope for an Obama presidency. How many does she represent? I don't want to even guess. For all the reasons you state in a well organized assessment of Obama's first year, there's good reason for major disappointment. What you so clearly articulated is echoed in today's NY Times by Frank Rich and Tom Friedman. Bill Moyer also had a good interview on Friday with an African American professor from Princeton and a liberal blogger from New York, Eric?
    They along with Moyers were equally baffled and disappointed but the one thing they did say was that those of us who voted for him and wanted change have to find a way to get back in there and challenge his leadership. The NOPE party is a scary alternative as it does and will effect our children and grandchildren. We can only hope that we will see the shift in the Supreme Court to a more favorable 5-4 in our lifetime.
    Thanks for your thoughts and critiques. Keep thinking and writing and sharing.
    Peace and Happy 2010
    Steve Dells

  3. Glad to read your blogs Bernie. I hope President Obama cuts out this bipartisanship bullcrap. The President should always think about Albert Einstein's quote: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  4. I want this President to succeed. Moving further to the right is NOT the way to go!!