Today marks the one year anniversary of Barack Obama's presidency. In the twelve months since he took the oath of office, President Obama has had to deal with the crushing weight of optimistic expectation and the cold, cruel reality of getting what you wished for. For the pundits on both sides of the political fence, there is consensus that this Presidency has not signalled the much hoped for return to Camelot. Instead, the shine on the new president and his family have dulled fast. And what is left is a nation in a state of near crisis.
As an anniversary gift, the President received some of the worst news imaginable: the once unassaible democratic fortress that is the senatorial seat formerly held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has fallen to a Conservative Republican of little repute and whose chances of winning were being written off as little as two weeks ago. Even the President's attempt to hit the ground campaigning for the Democratic candidate has been for nought. A slap in the face for the President, yes. But more startlingly for the President's policies in particular Health Care Reform, the Social Agenda and Homeland Security. 'Yes, we can!' Is quickly turning into "Yes, we could have." Or even, "Yes, we can't!"
There has been lots of talk this past week about the President's Report Card. Even the President himself somewhat foolishly stumbled into the discourse by giving himself a very generous B+ for his freshman year effort. History will instead recall a very different story. Of a year that has been filled with gaffes, misdirection, dashed hopes, a damaged american psyche and a series of political miscalculations. This is not to say that President does not remain popular with a sizeable portion of the american public. But perhaps what was needed in 2009 were fewer pleas for time and patience and more attempts at communicating a future that could well still be. A little more fatherly and alot less dithering.
I myself have attempted to grade the President's Performance against the key issues of the past year. Sadly, in spite of the desire to be a more generous grader and in light of the crushing weught of unfulfilled promises, overall the President's grade could hardly be above a C+. Hardly the performance of a Nobel Laureate, I know - but lets be honest: he didnt really deserve that either did he?
The President's Freshman Report Card would read as follows:
The Economy D+
In spite of the billions of dollars in bail-outs. The average american continued to lose his job and his home in 2009. Cash for clunkers? Tax breaks on electric golf carts? Runaway defecit spending? Stimulus packages with so much graft and riders attached to it that they barely delivered any relief to the american people. In spite of the billions of dollars of new debt, americans are waiting with bated breath for the dreaded 'double dip'. The Economic Crisis was not well handled and it is still far from over. Much room for improvement next year.
Foreign Policy C-
The Nobel Peace Prize could well have been an accolade earned by future President Obama (lets say circa 2015) but with Professor Brown suffering from a lack of funding and Marty McFly no doubt looking for meaningful employment, there was no way for the DeLorean to make that trip Back to the Future to confirm that the President planted any of the seeds for lasting peace let alone meaningful dialogue in 2009. The President caved in Palestine. Had his bluff called in Teheran. And needed a well executed Hail Mary from an ex-President to save the two journalists in North Korea. Even now, the US is making a total mess of the relief effort in Haiti. There were shades of 'W' all round. To his credit however, he did try to save the show at Copenhagen but at what cost? And to what redounding benefit is still to be seen.
This president talks the talk but the jury is still out on whether or not he can walk the walk. With the nation facing down the barrel of economic ruin it would have been foolhardy to believe that there would be a meaningful shift from fossil fuel reliance to more renewable forms of energy. Truth be told, this is a charge that Government will have to drive through its infancy until it can be weaned off of the national teat. Copenhagen represented a minor victory of sorts for the Climate Chaneg advocates. The proof however will be in the pudding and whether or not an economic upswing can be manufactured on the backs of a carefully managed national energy and national conservation policies.
Homeland Security B-
The entire visa system in the US requires a overhaul - fast! How is it that a Nigerian teen (hell-bent on the Apocalypse) can be granted a visitors' visa yet bonafide students from english speaking countries are being routinely denied student's visas? (True story that) One would think that with the mess that the health system is in that there would be an open-arms policy when it came to medical students possibly even inducements to have them stay there after as well. This 'issue' aside, the Department of Homeland Security is no nearer to being properly integrated with other state agencies let alone have a true picture of just who exactly is showing up at every american port of call. Still no repeats of 9/11 makes a B- a pretty fair grade.
Even though he was able to get some semblance of a Heath Reform Bill passed in the Senate, the defeat in Massachussets on Tuesday could signal un an unravelling of the support for his Healthcare agenda in the coming months. There are many democrats in the House who are up for re-election this year and for many this contentious issue could well lose them their places on Capitol Hill. What is required are baby steps rather than a sea change with respect to this issue. The President must learn that to push his agenda through he is going to require friends on either side of the house. Moderation and collaboration will help to remove the much bandied about labels of 'liberal' and 'socialist' from the debate and will in time cultivate the sense that a health care plan that benefits all americans is morally right, christian and the gosh-darn american thing to support. More honey and less vinegar Mr President. Play nice with the kids on both sides of the house and a much higher grade can be yours next year.
The War in Iraq C+
Depending from which angle you look at it, this Administration's performance on this front has been either a startling failure or a moderate success. The mere fact that the withdrawal of troops in Iraq appears set to begin as planned in August 2010 is a success of sorts. Mr Obama neither started this operation nor has he made a hobby of justifying what has from the start been an unneccessary and costly expedition. Still, his ability to keep his word has to be juxtaposed by the fact that the occupying forces leave behind an Iraqi Government and Military that is ill-equipped to deal with the mess that is Iraq. For all that he was, Saddam Hussein helped to maintain a certain balance and stability in that region. With so many diametrically opposed views vying for its share of resources in Iraq (Shi-ites, Sunnis, Kurds, Baathists) the outlook for that country remains grim to say the least. The amercianization of Iraq is no doubt destined to be a temporary event.
The War in Afghanistan F
Even I called this one wrongly. Initially, I had anticipated that the action in Afghanistan would have been a short-lived affair. That a nation worn down by under-development, years of civil unrest and a long treacherous occupation by the second most powerful nation in the world - would have been no match for the US Armed Forces. Instead, Afghanistan will more than likely go down in history as Vietnam 2.0. 18,000 additional troops are not going to help the situation very much. Get out now while you still have black hair on your head.
With few successes behind him, (And even the threat that some of what has been accomplished will now be undone in the wake of yesterday's election defeat!) and with November and a slew of Congressional, Senatorial and Gubernatorial seats to be contested looming on the horizon, the question arises: Is Barack Obama destined to be a one-term President?
Both Presidents Bush (Number 43) and Clinton faced similar questions one year into their first term when very different sets of circumstances stepped in to save each of their presidencies. More famously, the Bush Presidency was for all intents and purposes saved by 9/11 and predictably the good ole boys circled the wagons and he was re-elected in 2004. As a political and historical observer, I cannot help but wonder just what, if any, event or series of events awaits americans this time around. Or will it simply be a case of a President changing his course on the advice of his people? Erring on the side of reason? Does this President even want to win a second election?
On the surface, President Obama has until now had an easy run of things. His elevation from Illinois Lawyer to President has been a relatively short and favourable road. Now with the chips seemingly down, President Obama has a real opportunity to prove to the nation that he has what it takes to be a truly great president.
And the opportunities for greatness are blatantly obvious. I mean where is the bipartisanship that he eschewed during his campaign fifteen months ago? Where is the great communicator elected in November '08? The uniter of the people? The leader through the tough times? Where is the man americans thought they elected a year ago? The answers to all of these questions will come in good time. But for now, the rest of the world is still rooting for President Obama and the audacity of hope remains - a little bruised and dented - but still there, as we turn our faces into the headwind of a very uncertain future.