Obama at One
Senior Lecturer, Harvard Medical School
President Obama's greatest success has been to show the rest of the world a new face of understanding and cooperation. Still, count me among those who are disappointed in his first year. He seems to lack the courage to push for the fundamental reforms necessary to deal with the enormous problems we face, and instead appeases the very forces that have gotten us into the mess. By appointing Geithner and Summers, for example, he ensured that Wall Street, but
not Main Street, would be rescued. More dismaying, he extended Bush's policy of detaining certain terrorism suspects indefinitely, and he is well on his way to expanding
the self-destructive war in Afghanistan.
As for healthcare, my area of expertise, the reform bill Obama is cobbling together wrongly retains the central role of the private insurance companies and requires millions of people to buy their products at whatever price they charge. True, some of the industry's discriminatory practices would be outlawed, but if that adds to their costs, they can simply raise premiums. The pharmaceutical industry can also continue to charge whatever it likes. If the bill is fully implemented (which I doubt), it may restrain the growth of government health spending, which is all the CBO cares about, but it will surely increase inflation in the rest of the system. Obama knows that a single-payer system is the only way to provide universal care while controlling costs, but he was unwilling to throw his weight behind it. All he seems to want now is the political victory of getting a health bill passed--any bill, no matter how untenable.
My sharpest moment of disappointment came when the administration supported the prohibition against buying lower-priced drugs from Canada and Europe. During his campaign, Obama promised to end this absurd restriction, but now he's siding with the pharmaceutical industry.
It's not enough to understand what needs to be done; the president has to be willing to fight for it and, yes, take political risks.
Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
For progressives who supported John Edwards--before his personal implosion--the first year of Obama's presidency has been, more or less, what we expected. The symbolic victory of our first African-American presidency gave way to disappointment over his centrism, which comes as no great surprise, since Obama never advertised himself as a man of the left. And indeed, he isn't.
Accordingly, we should not be surprised that Obama did not bring to heel the Bush administration's Great Giveaway to the nation's banking sector. This is a travesty of the highest order, a betrayal of millions of taxpayers whose savings have been swallowed by those well-heeled Wall Street tycoons busily doing "the Lord's work." Thousands have seen their savings go up in smoke, their homes fall into foreclosure and their jobs evaporate, only to witness the spectacle of stratospheric year-end bankers' bonuses. Efforts to bring the wildcat financial industry back under strict regulatory control appear to have taken a back seat to the "needs" of the industry to retain the best and the brightest. Why not let them go job hunting on their spectacular record of institutional collapse?
On the plus side of the equation, and with a nod once again to the erstwhile Mr. Edwards, we have to count the deeply flawed but nonetheless historic healthcare bill. It is
no panacea and may even drag the Democrats down if its benefits do not kick in before 2014. But the extension of health insurance to millions who were previously left on
their own is a social policy victory.
Professor of International Relations, Boston University
As a conservative who voted for Obama, I hoped his election would signal a clear repudiation of his predecessor's reckless and ill-advised approach to national security policy. A clear break from the past just might create the space for a principled debate about the proper direction of US policy after the cold war, after 9/11 and after the passing of the neoconservative moment. Out of that debate might come a more prudent and realistic appreciation of the capabilities and limitations of military power. Washington might wean itself from its infatuation with war--at least so I fancied. This has turned out to be a great illusion. Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan indicates that he will not break with the existing national security consensus. The candidate who promised to "change the way Washington works" has become Washington's captive. Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, was truly a great day, for all sorts of reasons. But it's been all downhill since then.