The Record So Far

January 16, 2010

I received a note from a listener complaining about Obama's leadership and stating that the president has simply "wasted 365 days." Many on the liberal left agree.  Major initiatives proposed in his campaign have not been realized. The senate has proved obdurate. The public option is essentially off the table. The banks are getting away with billions. Had Obama waited longer and spent more time in the senate, said my correspondent, he would have had more dogs to call home when he became president. 

All that is true and all of it is depressing.  

But when we get discouraged we might remember this: This president is not fraudulent, explaining war for oil as if it were war for democracy. This vice president is not promoting the idea of the commander in chief above the law. This chairman of the Federal Reserve is not any longer lauding the free market as if were the writ of God. This president is not strutting around aircraft carriers earning the ridicule of nations. 

And seriously, on the positive side, has he really "wasted 365 days?"

He has vigorously engaged the US in the climate change negotiations, urging action at Copenhagen instead of opposing it, forcing Brazil, China and India to come to the table as well.   His EPA has faced up to the science and declared carbon dioxide emissions a threat to public health. For the first time the United States will seriously regulate one of the major causes of global warming.

He has set a timetable for beginning withdrawal from Afghanistan. He did it in such a way that it numbed the hawks into silence and yet there it lies: a challenge to the military and the CIA to produce or get out. 

He has brought to the brink of passage a health care bill that will extend coverage to 30 million and that by itself would have been the major accomplishment of any administration, not just George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, but also of LBJ or FDR. That bill will also do away with the cost-saving provision of "pre-existing conditions" and force insurers to find some other way to save other than by denying coverage.  If the new bill closes the prescription drug doughnut hole, that too, will be a major achievement. Not one of his predecessors has been able to do the same.

He has placed a feisty, no-nonsense woman justice on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor is not Earl Warren, but she is not Roberts or Alito, either, and she has her feet firmly in the real world and not the ideological world that declares self interest to be moral bedrock.

He has imposed new rules for lobbying by people who leave government and signaled a willingness to put public campaign financing on the table. 

He has made manufacturing for energy conservation a major national priority and pushed that development as a way to stimulate American exports.

He got the stimulus package passed and put an estimated 2 million people back to work and there are more jobs in the pipeline.

He is pushing to close Guantanamo and it is definitely not his fault that no provincial governor will allow the prisoners in. 

His attorney general has begun to restore integrity to the Department of Justice. There is, I believe, more to do. But we are not getting craven rationalizations for violating international law and ignoring domestic statutes.  We are not claiming that the king or the president is above the law and turning back the clock on 700 years of legal history.  We have been spared the embarrassment of Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Meirs.

None of this would have happened under John McCain and Sarah Palin. Not any of it. In my book, turning the ship of state, even to this degree is not "wasting time."

It is fair to argue that Obama might have done more to realize the high expectations that he himself created; that his manner is too cool; that he is too soft on Republicans and does not get tough when he needs to. That is all possibly true. But who is the model for getting tough? Rush Limbaugh? Dick Cheney? We have only just finished eight years of governance by slogans and fears and the substitution of greed and self interest for the common good, all of which led to economic and political collapse.

I prefer what we have.