Obama at One | The Nation


Obama at One

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


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Zbigniew Brzezinski

Former National Security Adviser


I think Obama's greatest moment was his speech rejecting the "war on terror" as an excessive and dangerous way of responding to the kind of terrorism that has been directed at the United States, because it was increasingly pitting the United States against the entire Islamic world. I think that was a wise course of action, I think it was a wise speech, I thought it was a wise redefinition of America's foreign policy. And the disappointment doesn't come with a single moment. I think it comes with the fact that his efforts to get the healthcare plan adopted have consumed so much of his time that he has slowed down his efforts to change American foreign policy.

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Ariel Dorfman

Chilean-American Author


Surely, even if there were no conditions for deep, radical transformations, we could have done better. I am most disappointed, in foreign policy, not by Afghanistan (I expected a surge of sorts, no matter how disastrous) but by the woeful mishandling of the Honduras coup, a botched chance to ensure that such adventures were a thing of the past. The best, internationally: Iran has not been bombed (yet!), the interceptor missiles in Poland were canceled, the radar in the Czech Republic was not deployed. And Obama's speech in Cairo was inspirational. Words still matter!

Nationally, his highest points may be the rejection of the F-22 bomber, his energy initiatives and all the people (not enough, but each of them is important) who are working because of the stimulus. I was distressed by how easily Van Jones was sacrificed, not only because we need wonderful men like him in the White House but because it is symptomatic of a lack of leadership and fighting spirit on far too many issues--healthcare being perhaps the most salient. Finally: I sent an open letter to Obama (through Amnesty International) asking that those who ordered torture in the name of America be brought to justice--and there has been, up till now, no reply. Lack of words also matter!

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Antonio Gonzalez

President, William C. Velasquez Institute


Naming the first Latina/o to the Supreme Court was definitely the highlight of Barack Obama's first year in office. Both symbolically and substantively meaningful, Justice Sonia Sotomayor's appointment will reverberate for years to come
in the consciousness of Latinas and Latinos, who have long yearned for that all too rare commodity in American society--respect. Furthermore, and perhaps more important, Justice Sotomayor will add a common-sense, ethnically aware perspective to the "out of touch" highest court in the land.

An equally obvious choice for lowlight of Obama's
first year is his continued delay of a push for justice for
12 million undocumented "indentured servants" in our midst. Having committed to immigration reform that "included legalization" in Obama's first hundred days, the administration shifted that promise to "first year" and now to the spring of 2010. But to repeat the well-known civil rights-era slogan, "Justice delayed is justice denied."

Even the most loyal of Latino Democratic leaders know that facing Latino voters empty-handed on this priority issue in November is a risky proposition.

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Glenn C. Loury

Professor of the Social Sciences, Brown University


From where I sit, the high point of President Obama's young administration was its inauguration. Much seemed possible on that glorious day, but it has been downhill since. Hope, it would appear, is more easily inspired than it is justified. And those eloquent speeches about change during Obama's historic and euphoric campaign look now to have been precisely what the candidate's detractors said they were--just words.

Specifically, my hope had been that elevating a progressive African-American Democrat to the nation's highest office would do two things: help to bring about an effective engagement with America's unresolved problems of racial inequality, and begin to reverse our headlong march toward a Hundred Years' War with radical Islam. I did not expect these things to happen overnight, but I did expect to see movement in this direction. This administration has shown scant inclination to do either, which is disappointment enough. But worse--far worse--is the likelihood that Obama's failure even to attempt such changes will discredit the very idea that these are worthy objectives for any Democrat.

Obama has said little of substance about racial inequality since moving into the Oval Office, and what he has said leaves much to be desired. His speech to the NAACP convention was a rehash of his by now familiar "family values" homily. His comments on the arrest last summer of a black Harvard professor were shockingly inept. Our black president seems eager to address the American public with passion about the race issue when his "friend" has been mistreated by the police, but not if it means stressing policy reforms that might keep tens
of thousands of troubled black men out of prison.

As for the new American militarism, Obama has not really changed the direction in which we are headed. Indeed, and ironically, his speech in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize attempted to justify American military hegemony as the necessary precondition of global security and prosperity in the second half of the twentieth century. His conduct of the "war on terror" and, most distressing, his escalation of our involvement in Afghanistan's civil war is eerily reminiscent of the approach of his immediate predecessor.

This is not change of any kind, let alone of the kind that we can believe in.

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