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One Year In

01/24/2010

This time last year Deanna and I were driving back from Washington, DC exhausted and elated.  Listening to news and liberal talk radio on the XM radio, enjoying updates about Barack’s first days in office, listening to the gears turn as he sharpened his approach to governing as President.  We’re not overly idealistic or naive, mind you, but hope was at a high those first few days as we breathed sighs of relief over his statements about closing Guantanamo, new anti-lobbying rules for his White House, pay freezes for his staff, and turning his attention to the economy and the Middle East.  A year later, where has all that hope gone?

Right here, that’s where it’s gone.  As I read some of the disillusioned statements about Obama’s first year in office, I can’t help but think that expectations of him reflect a disheartening ignorance of our system of government and its structure.  We did not elect a Monarch, we elected a President.  Perhaps we were duped by the more despotic tendencies of Obama’s predecessor and his not-executive-not-legislative friend Dick, and expected the new President to act with the same unilateral opponents-be-damned iron fist that we decried for the better part of eight years.  But why would we want or expect that?

Barack ran as a consensus builder, as someone who would try to involve Republicans as well as Democrats to build legislation through– shocker– the legislative branch.  And that’s what he’s done.  Now that’s not to say that it’s been as effective as I’d hoped, or that I’m completely happy with what the Democrats have done with this first year, but there are a lot of Debbie Downers/Doug and Wendy Whiners who seem content to bitch and moan and blame Obama rather than build on what’s been achieved.  I am not among them.

One year ago, I thought that the Republicans were likely to look at the results of their überconservative approach and realize that they needed to change.  I thought they would make a tactical choice to move toward the middle, to try and pry some of those independents and moderates and non-homophobes and non-racists into a more modern version of the Republican party, which I was fine with.  It would be good to have some moderate conservatives.

Unfortunately I was wrong; the Republican Party has moved even further to the right, retreating backwards into the belligerent, hateful lying that brought them down in the first place.  To some degree it shouldn’t surprise me, as there should be an expected reaction to the first black President of the United States.  But I had underestimated it.  I knew that element of our society was present, of course– I mean, I do live in the South– but I hadn’t visualized the way it would galvanize the radical right into such a shouting, violent cauldron of ugliness.

And this seems to be the perceived way forward for Republicans right now: funnel hatred and thinly-veiled racism into a vaguely articulated anti-Obama movement:  The President wants to give an innocuous, arguably conservative message to school kids?  He’s a fascist trying to indoctrinate our children!  Pull them out of school!  The President wants to reform our healthcare system so that fewer people die and people don’t lose their homes and livelihoods when they get sick?  He’s a socialist!  The tentacled spectre of Red Russia is coming to strangle Grandma and steal all of our precious money!  Conservatives’ overreaction to everything Obama does is awfully telling.  I wish they had the honesty to flat-out say what they really mean.  Think those Tea Party protesters know the ins and outs of the Healthcare Bill or TARP or the stimulus or any other piece of policy?  Think again.

So it’s clear at this point, one year into Obama’s Presidency, that Conservatives aren’t going to participate.  They’re going to take their ball and go home.  Fair enough.  If they can’t be pleased, then we should not try to please them.  If it cannot be done, then we should not waste time trying to do it.  And if their hate agenda is going to be enough to elect a majority in either house, then we should be as active as possible to get good, progressive legislation passed this year.  The Democrats, as of this writing, still have a big majority, and should use it.  Pass the House Healthcare bill via reconciliation.  Why not?  If you believe it’s what needs to be done, then why work so hard to be perceived by conservatives as conciliatory when they’re not going to give you any respect for doing so?  Do you think they wouldn’t do the same thing if there were in power?  Moreover, do you think anybody is going to care in 2011 or 2012 about HOW the healthcare bill passed?  They will not.  The only thing that will matter, in election terms, is that the bill passed.  And the only thing that will matter, in real terms, is how good the bill is long-term.

I think Obama has kept in mind why he was elected.  He’s done a lot more than many progressives give him credit for, and many of his achievements have been ignored or marginalized by the endlessly shallow news networks.  I hope he’ll get an effective Healthcare bill passed by whatever means he has, keep working on the economy, energy policy, infrastructure, bank regulation, and improving our international standing (which is often decried by Republicans despite its immeasurable long-term benefits).  And for those who are feeling let down by what his hopefully the first eighth of his Presidency, I leave you with a list of his enormous first year achievements for your reconsideration.  Do not discount or forget them:

• Signed a $787 Billion stimulus bill (including $288 billion in tax cuts) which is still being implemented.

• Passed the bank bailout part 2.  These two accomplishments alone, while not extremely popular, seem to gain approval from most economists as having kept us from falling into a full-on depression.

• Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, an amendment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that makes it much more practical for women to force their employers to pay them the same as male employees.

• Signed the Matthew Shepard Act (the hate crimes prevention bill) into law, realistically expanding the definition of a hate crime and giving federal authorities a greater ability to investigate and prosecute them.  It is also the first federal law to extend legal protections to and track hate crime statistics on transgender people.

• Ended Bush’s eight year long ban on embryonic stem cell research.

• Formally announced the beginning of the US withdrawal from Iraq.

• Signed an executive order banning the use of torture (or “harsh interrogation”) and ordering Guantanamo to be shut down.  Banning torture was certainly necessary and I’m glad he did it quickly.  Guantanamo is easier said than done, of course, but it’s still part of the agenda, and its details are obviously going to take a long time to hammer out.  The jury’s still out on this, but I believe he’ll get it done.

• Rescinded via executive order George W. Bush’s policy of barring financial aid to international family planning groups, thereby saving lives around the world with a single signature.

• Took the first steps towards making California’s emissions standards a requirement for the country (something Bush had halted for six years).

• Created the wildly successful “Cash for Clunkers” program that breathed a life into the American automobile industry.

• Appointed Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

• Forced GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, a necessary move from which both had emerged by the end of June.

• Hit the reset button on our relationship with the Muslim world in his Cairo Speech, both treating it with respect and opening the door for them to do the same in return.  It’s long, but watch it if you haven’t already.

• Gone a long way towards reshaping the world’s image of us through a number of trips and speeches, changing our approach with China, Iran, Russia, Iraq, and Israel to name a few.

• Ordered the Justice Department to respect states’ rights with regard to medical marijuana laws, effectively freeing states to provide marijuana for medical purposes.

• Committed to a high-speed rail system connecting many large US cities.

• Established a credit card holders’ bill of rights, prohibiting credit card companies from overcharging cardholders via exorbitant interest rates.

• Expanded eligibility for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are many sites going into further detail, but there’s a fairly succinct yet thorough list here.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tracey O'Brien permalink
    01/24/2010 7:01 pm

    Never were truer words spoken, Miles. Any moderate Wendy Whiner that may be lurking within is taking a hike. Thanks for that.

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  1. Obama, One Year In | maunet

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