Obama at One
Executive Director, Center for Community Change
The healthcare bill is, for all its flaws, a momentous accomplishment. It is the first major expansion of the federal safety
net since the 1960s, and not only extends coverage to more than
30 million Americans but reverses the conservative string of successes in shrinking the role of government. In light of the economic crisis, President Obama had an easy excuse not to pursue a grand healthcare agenda. Indeed, reports are that some of his close advisers told him to play small ball; that he ignored their advice is a credit to his leadership. Though I wish the president had fought harder for key progressive priorities, holding him solely to account for the realities of the Senate (and a closely divided country) is to forget that he is a president, not a magician. Progressives and community organizers can be proud of the role we played. Had we not outmatched the tea-baggers in our advocacy, and pushed hard for the public option, we would have ended up with a thin gruel or perhaps nothing at all.
On the downside, the president has put together an economic team that has delivered for Wall Street but not for hurting communities. Their caution in light of the unfolding unemployment crisis has created the conditions for a right-wing populism that could be the undoing of a progressive agenda for a generation. Unless we force Washington to reverse course and pursue a bold full-employment agenda, the window for big change could close very quickly. The president's odd decision to demobilize his base in 2009 in favor of an insider approach to governance was a colossal mistake, and underlines the critical role for independent movements to create political space.
County Councilwoman, Greenwood, South Carolina
My greatest moment of excitement was when Obama was given the oath to be the president, not just the black president but the president. He's not just some people's president but president of all of us, commander-in-chief of all of us.
My low moment has been the stimulus. In South Carolina, the money did not get down as far as it should have gotten. We are thankful for what we did get, but it is not as much as
I thought we should have gotten. I was hoping we could have done better job-wise.
I still have not, will not, give up on him as president, because I know he came into a lot of challenges from the outset, and it's going to take him a while to correct much of what was there when he became president. I still believe that we're going to get through it. And it's not going to take him alone. It's going to take his staff, and the House and the Senate working with him, as well as people down on the state and local level. As I told President Obama during the campaign, we all be "Fired Up and Ready to Go." We're going to work together and do what we have to do to move forward. And that will be what will get us through this recession.
The highest points have been his incarnation of the fight against racism, still alive after the long battle for civil rights and his plan for healthcare reform.
The sharpest disappoints:
§ Guantánamo, a universal disgrace
§ Afghanistan, a poisoned chalice, accepted and celebrated
§ His raising of the war budget, still called, who knows why, the defense budget
§ His nonanswer to the climate and yes-man answer to Wall Street, a contradiction captured perfectly on a poster outside the Copenhagen conference: "If the climate were a bank, it would be saved"
§ His green light to the authors of the military coup
in Honduras, betraying Latin hopes for change after
a century and a half of US-fabricated coups against democracy in the name of democracy
§ His recent speeches praising war, hymns to the ongoing butcheries for oil or the sacred cause of racketeer governments, so utterly divorced from the lively words that put him where he now sits
I don't know. Perhaps Barack Obama is a prisoner. The most powerful prisoner in the world. And perhaps he cannot notice it. So many people are in jail.