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Obama at One | The Nation

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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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Randi Weingarten

President, American Federation of Teachers

What stands out in the president's first year is his tremendous leadership on the economy. While there is still a long way to go, his actions helped put us on the right track. From the start, he recognized the need to act quickly to save and create jobs. That's why he worked with Congress to enact the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided an infusion of funds into state budgets, thereby helping states avert draconian cuts in education, law enforcement, healthcare and other critical services. Further, by investing ARRA funds in our schools, the president helped protect a generation of young Americans from the harmful effects of disastrous school-budget cuts.

I haven't agreed with every action of the administration this year; no doubt, even among allies there will always be disagreements on aspects of policy. Through it all, though, we'll continue to respect this president because of his stewardship of the economy, his tangible support for public education and the respect he has shown us--even when we disagree.

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Ilyse G. Hogue

Campaign Director, MoveOn.org

 

It's hard to separate 2009 from 2008, because MoveOn's staff and members never missed a beat after the election. Despite being exhausted, we--like millions of progressive Americans--recognized that the window for transformational change could be brief and that seizing this moment required redoubling our efforts. What amazes me most is the sense of individual and group claim that people had on this new government. Millions of those who turned 2008 into a referendum on our entire system of governance went on to demand accountability from bank CEOs and insurance industries. From directing outrage at bank CEOs to account for missing TARP funds to insisting that legislators address the grave need for real health reform instead of pandering to the insurance industry, the renewed sense that government must protect its citizens from corporate abuse and greed was visceral. And to a degree, it was successful in cutting through the political gamesmanship.

What disappoints is that all this collective effort simply has not been enough to overcome the unfettered corporate influence that has governed our country for so long, or to move our new president to reject incrementalism in favor of more bold progressive change. The systems that govern Washington politics are too deep-seated to be overturned by a single election or a single president--even one more inclined toward radical reform than this one. Despite the tidal wave of momentum demanding accountability and change, progress proves to be modest and gradual. While this frustrates, I am buoyed by the fact that, having tasted their ability to affect their individual circumstances, people haven't stopped fighting for what they believe is right. Our 5 million members are proof of that.

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James Carr

Chief Operating Officer, National Community Reinvestment Coalition

 

President Barack Obama's election promised a fundamental policy shift away from the interests of America's wealthiest toward the needs of working families and historically disenfranchised communities. In his first year, Obama successfully steered the nation away from a second Great Depression. But the pursuit of fundamental change has not yet lived up to the inspirational pre-election rhetoric. The administration's reluctance to tackle adequately the foreclosure crisis that claimed 2.8 million additional homes in 2009 and will likely claim millions more in 2010 is disappointing.

Worse, however, is the reluctance to address economic challenges directly that are facing the most vulnerable communities and acknowledge the indisputable connection between race, injustice and economic outcomes. African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color are experiencing foreclosures and unemployment at alarmingly disproportionate rates. Yet people of color will represent more than half of the US population within thirty-five years. Targeting economic resources to communities most in need is not only just and humane; it is critical to the future competitiveness of America. Many argue that expectations for the president are unrealistically high. But candidate Obama set the bar, and those expectations sealed his victory. The question remains, Will he rise to the challenge of this tumultuous economic time for America?

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Gara LaMarche

President, The Atlantic Philanthropies

 

The high points of the past year were not so much a moment as a steady series of them: seeing the country led by a gifted, progressive, eloquent, centered figure moving the ball forward each day on a range of huge, untended-to problems without allowing himself to be distracted too much by a virulent, nihilistic right or by elements of the left who seem not to have the stomach to fight their enemies for too long without turning fire on allies. The stimulus and coming healthcare bill represent massive advances for social welfare--something the right seems to understand better than we do, and we will pay a big price for that if we don't come to our senses and own our victories soon.

The disappointments have also been many. I don't believe many of us anticipated how fragile and fleeting the "transformational" moment might be, or how deeply sown the hostility to government would be, as a result of concentrated right-wing attacks over thirty years. Neither Hurricane Katrina or, it turns out, the financial meltdown, was enough to overcome it. Whatever the state of the "real" economy--which ought to be our primary focus, in human and political terms--the easing of the Wall Street crisis took the air out of the supposed Rooseveltian moment, and the president finds himself almost apologizing for each extension of government into a sick economy. If the president doesn't turn his considerable teaching talents toward making an overarching case for positive, strong, democratic government, and if progressives don't support and elevate that narrative, the next three years will be even tougher than the first.

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