Obama at One | The Nation


Obama at One

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Looking back at President Obama's first year in office, what do you think the high point has been? And what has been your sharpest moment of disappointment? On this occasion, that's what The Nation asked members of our community, and beyond. Now we want to know what you think. Share your take on Obama's highest and lowest moments in the form provided here.

This article features four contributions (on page 8) that did not appear in the print edition.


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President Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, ignited the hopes of millions of Americans seeking real change. One year later, many progressives are worried that the Obama administration's commitment to change is not as strong as it should be. Some of his stalwart supporters feel anguish at what they see as a betrayal or delay of his campaign's promises, while many of his longtime critics feel vindicated in their initial skepticism. Other progressives, however, take stock of the advances that have been made in Washington and urge the left against making definitive pronouncements on his presidency so soon. Here at The Nation, Obama's politics and policies have been at the center of vigorous, persistent discussion and debate among our writers, editors and contributors. How one views Obama's first year is no doubt guided by one's political beliefs, but also by sensibility and intuition. On this occasion, we canvassed an array of opinions from our community--and beyond. We asked the simple question: Looking back at President Obama's first year in office, what do you think the high point has been? And what has been your sharpest moment of disappointment? The answers appear below... from:

Michael Tomasky
Glenn Greenwald
Chris Bowers
Adolph Reed Jr.
Hendrik Hertzberg
Marcia Angell, MD
Katherine Newman
Andrew Bacevich
Zbigniew Brzezinski
Ariel Dorfman
Antonio Gonzalez
Glenn C. Loury
Deepak Bhargava
Edith Childs
Eduardo Galeano
Krishnan Subrahmanian
Howard Zinn
Ellen Miller
Benjamin Jealous
Robert Caro
Randi Weingarten
Ilyse G. Hogue
James Carr
Gara LaMarche





Michael Tomasky


Editor, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas


In straightforward policy terms, healthcare reform is the best thing Obama has done. Yes, expectations were raised for more, and the process was painful to watch, but the changes in this bill are greater than anything the Clintons tried to do, anything Al Gore ran on, anything John Kerry ran on, anything Howard Dean ran on, etc. It's a big, big, big deal. Assuming it passes.

The civil liberties area has been his worst. This is the one area in which the president's actions don't remotely match the candidate's promises. On everything else, whether you like the policies or not, he's doing pretty much what he said he would do (yes, even in Afghanistan).

In terms of style of governance, Obama has if anything over-learned some lessons of history: it was good that he didn't want to dictate a health bill to Congress, but he ceded too much authority; it was good that he didn't want to mollycoddle Israel, but he alienated even some friendly Kadima and Labour elements, etc. Those who pay too much attention to history are doomed to... well, maybe we'll see.

A difficult but good first year. His fate will be 80 percent dependent on the state of the economy. That's where the effort needs to go.

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Glenn Greenwald


Writer, Salon


The overarching attribute of Obama's first year in office was his eagerness to accommodate the various permanent power factions that have long ruled Washington, and one can view both his high and low points through this prism.

His high point came in mid-April, when he announced he would declassify and release four memos from the Bush Office of Legal Counsel that authorized and graphically described torture techniques used by the CIA. He did so in the face of furious opposition from the intelligence community and with the knowledge that he would be accused of endangering our security. Release of those memos revitalized debate over Bush's torture regime and was an all-too-rare instance of courage and commitment to transparency from the new president. American presidents simply do not disseminate to the world memos detailing our national crimes committed in secret, but Obama did exactly that.

Obama's low point was when he got caught in August having secretly negotiated various deals with PhARMA over healthcare reform. Substantively, the deals banned what he long vowed he would institute--bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation. Worse, they were a blatant violation of his pledge to conduct all healthcare negotiations in public (even on C-SPAN), in order to prevent exactly this type of sleazy deal-making with industry interests. Massive giveaways to the most powerful corporations, effectuated in the dark, were what Obama most railed against as a candidate, and what he has repeatedly done as president.

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