Obama at One
Former Field Staff, Obama for America
As a medical student, I am most thrilled that health insurance reform is closer to being a reality now than at any point in generations. When the House announced that it had passed a bill, it was an emotional moment as I began to think of the many people on the campaign who told horror stories about their experience with health insurance. I thought of the young mother of two who, lacking health insurance, ignored a pestering stomachache until it presented as a ten-inch tumor. The end of discrimination against pre-existing conditions and the insidious process of rescission is nearly at hand. Reform would expand coverage to include 94 percent of Americans.
This reform is not perfect, and I am sure improvements can and will be made. Current proposals lack a public option, and I am skeptical that pilot programs and comparative effectiveness research alone
will yield necessary reductions in healthcare expenditures. Despite imperfections, the president and his team have kept the complicated and unglamorous topic of health insurance reform at the forefront of public discussion and made monumental reform a real possibility.
Disappointment struck me most at a moment that should have been joyful: the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama in December, just days after he announced troop escalation in Afghanistan. This paradox highlights the great gulf between the idealism of politics and the reality of government. Just as we had unyielding faith in the campaign, I hope Obama is right on Afghanistan. I hope that 30,000 additional troops can ensure the safety and security of Afghans and Americans. I fear the consequences of his being wrong--for Afghans, for Americans and for our brave men and women in uniform.
I was saddened because the symbol of the peace prize represents for me unambiguous good without the burdens of being politically correct or viable. It is an award of ideals. The presidency is an office of problem solving and pragmatism. Watching great ideals settle into the compromise of legislation and governance is a sobering reminder that Obama is no longer a hopeful symbol for so many of us but someone with an incredibly difficult job before him.
I' ve been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.
As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican--as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people--and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.
I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.
I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.