20 January 2010: Obama’s First Year

Obama’s first year given high marks

Was it just a year ago that Barack Obama took the oath of office? It seems like four in how we’re rushing to judge his tenure on the basis of 366 days — the equivalent of a leap year.

When I wrote about him at one point, I used a line from Richard III, which also serves as the title of a classic John Steinbeck novel. Allegorically, most of us probably would agree this past year or four has been a “winter of our discontent.”

Anticipating this date, I asked a number of local citizens for their thoughts about Obama’s success or lack thereof to date. (For the record, a couple, including a Republican, declined or were unable to join in.) Responses included similar perspectives and words such as “pleased,” “intelligent” and “thoughtful.”

One regular reader from whom I get regular feedback and who asked to remain anonymous writes, “I am pleased to see and hear his intelligent and practical approach to solving the mess left to him.”

Her thoughts are echoed by Etta Satter and Cyndy Morreale, both of whom early on were in the front of the Obama bandwagon here in Clear Creek.

Etta says she is very pleased, and Cyndy says she gives him a B+, which could be raised to an A+ depending on the potential health care bill.

“Watching him on the world stage, such as his speech in Cairo,” says Etta, “has been truly inspirational, and the standing of the U.S. has grown since his election. I was heartened to see his thoughtful deliberations regarding Afghanistan.” Further, she says, “Whether or not we agree with his decisions, the nation can rest assured he is thoroughly examining the issues before coming to his conclusion.”

Cyndy echoes Etta, saying, “As Americans, we no longer need to feel embarrassed overseas. Obama is so well-spoken and educated. I feel so much better after a year.”

Nevertheless, all three expressed reservations. My reader hopes “he does not make the one big mistake other administrations have made: to be in awe of the guys on Wall Street. They need to be corralled before they put the rest of us out to pasture by shifting all our jobs overseas.”

A consistent theme is that of us becoming more aware of the limits of power. Cyndy says she is more disappointed in the Democratic Party than Obama. “He walked into a can of worms and has faced difficult tasks.”

Etta agrees: “President Obama has not accomplished much of what he promised to do, but I think we have all learned the very real differences between what a candidate wishes to accomplish, as seen in campaign promises, and the trials of governing, particularly with an opposition party that measures its success by its non-cooperation.”

Sam Morreale believes the president has done a marvelous job, coming into office with good intentions. “He had a lot on his plate to resolve, like the ‘cowboy attitude’ of George Bush in international issues.”

Sam blames Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans with their sour-grapes attitude.

“They’re all about winning, but then what?”

Sam harkens back to the days of “good-guy Republicans” like Barry Goldwater.

Sam also has a theory he likes to postulate: Since the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, we have “developed a utopian society that we can’t control and don’t know what to do with. We have everything we need to make it work, but we squander it.”

Sam is on to something. Reflecting on this after getting each of the responses, I wonder if it might have been better to ask how successful America has been rather than Obama since Inauguration Day 2009.

Tea baggers and other right-wingers will undoubtedly scream it’s been a disaster, but as usual they would be missing the point. By 2008 America was nearing a precipice above an abyss, a looming disaster spawned by their policies. They bequeathed us the Great Recession, the trillion-dollar optional war on Iraq and the Other War in Afghanistan. In their mythology, climate change isn’t real, and among their ideals is an economic and moral calamity called the American Health Care System that prioritizes profit to middlemen leeches over authentic care to human beings.

As with any dogmatic group, they are of a single mind and purpose: Make sure Obama fails even at the expense of their country.

I was among the last to board the Obama Express, but after a year with acknowledged disappointments — the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and the Defense of Marriage Act that are still in force among them — I will be perhaps the last to get off.

I like Sam’s theory, but my question is this: By squandering our wealth, skewing our priorities and thus negating the possibility of realizing LBJ’s dream of a great society, is the abyss that is a step beyond the precipice a complete dystopian state? The unanimity of the opposition party seems to indicate that.

Still, can Obama be an American “sun of York” that makes “glorious summer” of the “winter of our discontent?” He is, after all, a mere mortal, but I am waiting to see if he can walk on water as well as he does on earth.

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