Monday, December 21, 2009

Has Obama Disapointed Us?

by Richard Crews
When President Barack Obama came into office a year ago, he came with heavy billing. He was clearly one of the most intellectually brilliant men who had ever held the office--belonging in the first ranks with Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Woodrow Wilson, and Bill Clinton. His lionesque charisma and rhetorical acrobatics had brought the Democratic Party and then the American voting populace to their knees. He had an unprecedentedly cosmopolitan background--bred from interracial stock, raised here and there around the world, self-elevated from poverty and obscurity. He had an impossible constellation of training and experience--he had been editor of the Harvard Law Review and spent ten years teaching constitutional law; he had both grassroots experience as a community organizer and skill in riding the exploding technological crest of the Internet. And finally just as important--though perhaps more subtle--he seemed to have a strong moral compass: the sorts of humanitarian social values that are supposed to pervade our American perspective seemed to lie firmly behind his every word.

Heavy billing indeed!

And when he took his seat at the desk in the Oval Office, his in-basket was full: He inherited two wars, a worldwide economic meltdown, impending global ecological disaster, and a dysfunctional--nigh paralyzed--national legislature.

Truly a bursting in-basket!

He went hard to work. He created a world-class team of advisers--several teams, in fact, in different specialty areas. He uncorked a storm of federal spending--some very unpalatable but essential like bailing out the national (and by contagion, international) financial system; some artfully remedial like beginning to rebuild the country's decrepit infrastructure; some shamelessly progressive like jump-starting a green-energy economy. In the international arena, he reopened diplomatic doors that circumstances and prior administrations had slammed shut.

A year has passed. Obama has accomplished a great deal--and attempted even more. There are some reasons to feel disappointed: Wars rage on--nation-building attempts appear unavoidable but frustrating; Civil rights abuses persist--apparently we still hold in miserable confinement Afghan shepherds who will never be brought to trial and never be set free; Paralyzed legislative entrenchment continues--Democratic Party fringes must be bought by pork while Republican misrepresentation and obstructionism has congealed and hardened; And the economic recovery is jobless.

The overall assessment? History is slow. Politics is intractable. Public opinion is near-sighted. We are very fortunate to have Barack Obama at the helm of our leaky boat in these stormy seas.