In response to our “Obama at One” forum, readers from across the country wrote to The Nation to share their thoughts on Obama’s high and low points from his first year. For many readers, Obama’s high point came during his inauguration. But now that the first year has passed, the hope and inspiration they once felt for Obama have turned to feelings of betrayal. Obama has sided with the corporate lawyers and the big banks instead of with the people. His slow progress is much too slow for a party that voted him in for change and reform. Still, there are some that are more forgiving, and hopeful for year number two. Below, read a selection of submissions to The Nation.
Nowhere to Go But Up
Our world outlook has gone leaps and bounds, but maybe it had nowhere to go but up. To me, the high point started with the healthcare issue. Although I do not fully agree with the bill up for discussion, it is still groundbreaking in nature, and we wouldn’t have gotten this far without him. I think he will be one of the greatest presidents we have ever had and I can’t wait to help him get elected again.
Kelsey Freeman, 25
We Must All Have a Choice
I voted for Mr. Obama. Seems to be a likeable guy and all that, but I’m very disappointed that he has surrounded himself with advisors that seem unable to think outside the rut of their training/experiences–mainly, in the financial and healthcare sectors.
When the crisis is over, banks that didn’t fail could buy up these loans that the government made. The big bad bankers will have been spanked, their toys taken away and grounded, or their banks will have failed. Take healthcare reform. Is expanding insurance coverage the only way? The British have satisfactory healthcare at one-third our per capita cost–apparently they are three times healthier (stronger, disease-resistant, less coddled) than we are. But we don’t want to follow their success. Are our leaders nuts? Costs will never be contained by expanding coverage through private insurance, because the main culprit is the medical business, not insurance.
The problem is hospitals that bill our PPO fifteen times what they are entitled to, anesthesiologists that bill $88 more for the elderly, ambulance services that pad their mileage and services performed, doctors that bill $140-240 for a five-minute exam–under the twisted ethics that since the insurer is paying, they aren’t stealing from the patient. To contain healthcare costs, we have to remove the profit incentive–which means government-owned clinics and hospitals staffed by civil servants. And since we must all have choice, let there be private networks (no subsidies direct or indirect) and charity networks (for those who don’t want to or can’t be in either of the other two networks). Seems like we are sheep following a billy goat.
Ray Kawano, 80
San Jose, CA
Start Pleasing the Citizens, Not the Banks
Let me start off by saying I am an avid fan of The Nation. The high point for Obama in my point of view has to be his demeanor. He always stays calm, cool and collected during the toughest of times. I like the fact that he takes time to understand the information inside and out. I like that fact that he doesn’t just jump out in front of a camera. For instance, after the Christmas Day attempted bombing, he took the time, got all the information that he needed and then came out and spoke about what happened.
I think that he is trying to please too many people. The people he needs to worry about pleasing are the citizens, not the banks, not the insurance companies, not Congress, but the people. He needs to get that fire back in his belly. He needs to stand up for what he believes in.
I know that it is hard to get things accomplished in DC. I didn’t expect him to have all his policies in place by first year’s end. But I did expect him to fight for the average person. He still has time to turn things around, though. And I believe he will. I am the type of person who waits to judge somebody. So I am going to wait to judge this president until his term or terms is complete. I think that this healthcare bill was a start. I would have preferred that he started fighting for single-payer from the start instead of the public option, because maybe things might have been different. Maybe we would have a public option at this point, instead of no public option.
I think he needs to fight harder on financial regulation. We need to end TBTF and treat these bank CEOs as the criminals they are. What they have been doing over the years is a Ponzi scheme. All in all I give the president an A- because of the situation he came into. There is still a lot of time left in his presidency. JFK started off with the Bay of Pigs, he was starting to do great things until he was assassinated. I believe Obama can do the same.
Jason Edwards, 21
A Full House of Disappointments
The highest point was his inauguration. It was a moment I never thought I would see so soon. Unfortunately, much that transpired between election and inauguration days suggested that little good would follow.
His economic ignorance and the appallingly conservative appointments he made were, and have proven to be, huge deficiencies. His stimulus proposals and actions were woefully inadequate, and we are living with the results: few new or returned jobs and an economy really going nowhere. We also are faced with no consequential changes to our decades-old and disastrous trade policies.
Perhaps my biggest fundamental disappointment has been his adoption of many of the Bush policies regarding state secrets and discarding fundamental constitutional protections as well as his failure to rid himself of the politicized Bush US Attorneys (especially in Alabama). As he is supposed to be a professor of constitutional law, I am astonished by the actions of his seemingly clueless attorney general.
His lack of forceful leadership on healthcare reform is also deeply troubling. He had a significant majority of Americans on the side of serious reform. But he bailed on us. He let DLCers like Emanuel run the White House effort. He let himself be rolled by all concerned.
I no longer expect strong leadership from this man. His insight is hugely suspect. I never confused him with a dedicated progressive or liberal. But when you are dealt a hand full of aces, I do expect strong, intelligent action. He waffled instead and got bluffed out of winning hands on so many fronts. Unless he changes course (and there is still a little time to do so, as did FDR), his excessive caution and his retreaded Clinton administration advisors with all their lessons learned incorrectly will have doomed his presidency to failure.
Norm Conrad, 64
Obama Isn’t a Fighter–He’s a Liar
I contributed donations to his campaign and believed his rhetoric. I voted for him because I felt that he was a man who was trying to stand outside of the establishment and to see what Washington could do for America by looking at Washington from outside the boundaries of the capital from a citizen’s perspective. Instead, he surrounded himself with the establishment. He has done everything to help out the corporations. Economically, he gives American tax money to Wall Street without conditions and does it through back channels.
I’ve heard a lot of people try to blame it on Geithner, but Geithner works for Obama. Obama picked him, and you can’t tell me that Obama has no idea of the underhanded back channels that Geithner is using to funnel as much money as possible to Wall Street. If Obama is so smart, how can he not know this? He taxes the banks, which will just be pushed onto the customers, instead of taxing the bonuses like England and France did. He knows these options and purposely chooses against them.
With healthcare, he actively worked against the public option that he promised us. He gives American tax money to the pharmaceuticals so that they won’t work against the bill. He is mandating that Americans purchase private insurance without regulating their prices. There are plenty of empty houses on the market. I have access to them. I don’t go out and buy them all because I don’t have access to them; they are on the open market. I don’t buy them because I can’t afford them.
He has shown no sign of being a champion of the people and hasn’t fought for the people. He didn’t even talk about “rolling up his sleeves” and working to get healthcare done until after the Senate came up with a bill. He isn’t a fighter.
In hindsight, if I knew then what I know now, that I would be getting an establishment insider, I should have chosen one who was at least a fighter. If I could go back I would instead voted for Clinton. At least she has a pair.
Obama has shown that he is a “Blue Dog” and that he is more worried about helping the corporations than the American middle class. He isn’t progressive at all. He hasn’t even begun to set up the green jobs and change in industry that he promised us, and isn’t giving the progressives anything because as Rahm Emanuel feels, we’ll always be there for the Dems. who are we going to chose… a Republican?
Well, if this is what the next three years is going to be, in 2012, I have chosen. Since Obama isn’t working for me, one of those that worked for him, then in 2012, he can do it himself.
Scott Jahner, 31
Some Advice from Europe: Do Not Compromise
Looking at Obama’s first year from the viewpoint of an American who works in Europe much of the year, I can say that his marks are considerably higher from a European point of view than they are at home. This is remarkably similar to the situation when Bill Clinton was in office.
The willingness to have a meaningful dialogue with allies, to listen as well as lecture, especially when the American president has a full command of English, was a breath of fresh air. The shrill, hyperbolic tone of the Republican opposition struck a highly negative chord, especially in Germany, where so much of the rhetoric of the Republicans in Congress and their right-wing media arm of Fox “News” reminded the Germans so much of what happened to their country when such people were allowed to attain power almost eighty years ago. This, in itself, is not an assessment of Obama, but his willingness to stand up to it did not go unnoticed.
Indeed, if there has so far been any kind of low point to Obama’s first year, it is the disappointment that he appeared to bend over backwards as a gesture to an opposition that was clearly not in the slightest inclined to compromise on its hard-line positions. Obama is not at fault for extending a hand to his opposition, but he is expected to cease extending that hand when fingers start getting bitten off. Bush (i.e., Cheney) used every trick in the book, whether legal or merely questionable, to run roughshod over a minority Democratic opposition.
Obama, on the other hand, seems reluctant to use powers at his disposal to act in accordance with a large Democratic majority in both houses in Congress. There is great hope that he will use these powers decisively in the next year, not only to shore up his own support but also to underpin those members of his own party up for re-election this November.
The healthcare reform movement seems to have gotten stuck in some kind of mire, with special interests practically lining up at some proverbial cashier to buy off those legislators they deem susceptible to such sway. Their willingness to be so brazen about it, along with their apparent success, is troublesome, to say the least. On the other hand, the economic stimulus seems to be bearing fruit, and although this will never be fast enough to those out of work and without benefits or stricken by catastrophic illness, it is slowly but surely proving its detractors wrong.
The biggest disappointment was allowing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s personal animosity for Howard Dean to exile Dean from his coveted position as secretary of health and human services. The country had perhaps no one else with the perfect combination of dedication, expertise and experience to fill this position. Obama, fairly or unfairly, and though he owed Dean his fairly smooth sail into office in 2008, owed Dean no obligation to appoint him to HHS, but he certainly owed it to the people of the United States to have such a uniquely suited individual in that position. That Dean was shut out of that position for what seems to be a petty vendetta is a black mark on Obama’s record that is in no way mitigated by the fact that Emanuel is most likely the guilty party. If Obama is the place where the buck stops, then this was ultimately his call, and I think he blew it.
Other than that, I think that if Obama would pay a little less attention to the shrill extremes of his opposition, and a little more to the kind of people that worked tirelessly, and for free, to get him into the Oval Office, I think he’ll be fine. Still, that is one big “if.”
Marc Emory, 57
Dallas, TX/Duesseldorf, Germany
No Policy Reform? Buena Suerte, Obama
Obama’s election was a signal of hope within moments of great despair. The neoliberal economy was resulting in a social quagmire for the great majorities of the US population. The highest moment is yet to come, but healthcare reform is a step in the right direction.
The greatest disappointment is how slow this administration has moved to get rid of the most infamous policies of the past administration, especially in foreign policy. For example, it seems a cold-blooded attitude–their silence over the Gaza Massacre and their veto over the Crimes of War report in the UN.
Policy toward Cuba, Haiti, Honduras and Puerto Rico are stagnated in the cold war era, which is preposterous. Obama is slightly to the left of Clinton, but far right to Jimmy Carter’s era. It appears that those who worked so hard to get Obama elected–organized labor, center-left grassroots organizations, etc.–have been paid with a cold shoulder when advancing their principal political objectives. Buena suerte, Obama.
Rafael Arroyo Mercado
You Are Either With Us or Without the Will to Change
The high point has been that he and his family are actually occupying the White House. I think it made many black Americans proud and simultaneously shocked that such a thing could happen in a racist country like America. Hopefully, the longer they are there, the more it will serve to unite us.
However, I’m sharply disappointed that any one of us Americans is subject to become “disappeared” according to the way the Bush administration ruled over the country. Yet President Obama has done absolutely nothing to roll back the dictatorial, subversive and militaristic way in which law enforcement is encroaching upon our freedoms.
We’re going down the wrong road and not even a man of Obama’s integrity can make it right. I know that most Americans understand what integrity is, yet the ruling minority attempts to obfuscate the majority by using Joe the Plumber, Sarah Palin etc. to foil such extremely important qualities. That’s where Obama needs to use some audacity of the type Bush brandished when he declared that you are either with us or with them. For example: you are either with the majority of Americans, 70 percent of whom want single-payer healthcare, or you are with them, the minority who don’t want change.
A Gifted President with a Dysfunctional Congress
Even a gifted president with national support cannot cancel out a dysfunctional Congress that is bought and sold by corporate and other special interests. They have special privileges and little accountability since few are removed. They forget that they are elected to represent us, not to make fortunes, to get re-elected or for other sundry purposes that are generally labeled “self-interest.”
What has happened this year reveals how the system works and how it uses power. Perhaps the phrase “common good” is not understood. The high points include hope of something different as well as a nominee for the Supreme Court; Obama’s willingness to take his time and think, not just react (for the most part); his openness; his insistence on healthcare. I see Copenhagen as starting the conversation.
Low points include his bowing to military solutions and allowing detention centers, military bases, etc.; not using the bully pulpit when needed with Congress and corporate and financial enterprises.
Lisa Smith, 66
San Diego, CA
The People in This Country Need a Voice
In my opinion, the highest point of President Obama’s first year in office was his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, despite his reluctance to accept it because of his rather meager record and contribution on the world’s political stage. It is amazing to me that the mere utterance of his aspirations for a more equitable world garnered him this most prestigious prize. He received a lot of flak for this and he took the high road instead of firing back to his critics, especially on the right.
The sharpest moment of disappointment for me was President Obama’s relenting to omit the public option from the current healthcare bill, which is now being negotiated by the House and Senate for final passage. This option should never have been taken out of the bill. It would have made the lives of millions of poverty-stricken Americans much better. And it would have made President Obama a more respected political figure. Political expediency is often not a good thing for people in this country who have no voice whatsoever in Congress. Too bad. It speaks volumes for how our political system can be a detriment to Americans.
Antonio T. Pangelinan, 56
Castro Valley, CA
I think President Obama’s high points are many. He has provided changes to actions made by George Bush that hurt mankind, both physically and environmentally. He has worked hard to repair relationships with countries we need in our corner. Do we hear about these things? No! which brings me to my sharpest moments of disappointment, and who perpetuates them:
The media! Who continually promote those who wish to harm hard-working middle-class families by sucking the tits of Wall Street. The media persistantly giving an open mike to “birthers,” “deathers,” reporting BS like Sara Palin’s death panels, the ex-vice president (who should be in jail) and all the other factless morons who invade our living rooms every damn day. They are allowed to spread unfounded rumors and down right lies, without question.
In his first year President Obama has done more for this country than any other in recent history. Those who are truly uninformed will always be uninformed and we can’t change that, unfortunately, but why do we allow our media to be the ones who perpetuate the lies?
Here are the high points:
1) Healthcare reform, including children (CHIRP)
2) Establishing a national electric grid.
3) Funding electric car development
4) Funding green jobs development
5) Allowing state medical marijuana
6) Restoring Community Block Grants to fight poverty
7) International consensus before action
8) Ending missile defense in Eastern Europe
9) Scrapping F-22 funding
10) Ending no-bid contracting for defense
11) Withdrawing from Iraq
12) Closing Guantánamo
13) Ending CIA secret prisons
14) Re-affirming Geneva Conventions
15) Appointing first Latina to Supreme Court
16) Appointing first openly transgendered person
17) Lifting global gag rule on abortion
18) Ending twenty-year ban on neededl exchange to combat AIDS
19) Authorizing the EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act against Big Coal
Here is the low point:
20) Failed to rein in moneyed special interest groups and their lobbyists, which weakens all progressive reform efforts.
Metteyya Brahmana, 47
Santa Cruz, CA
Highs and Lows of a Nobel Prize
Lowest moment: accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.
Highest moment: winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Without a doubt, in my mind, the Nobel Prize event is both his highest and lowest moment. It’s high because it shows how much faith or perhaps desperation the world has for a potentially strong leader like Obama. Winning was a culmination of at least his foreign policy rhetoric, positively marking his one year of presidency. However, the fact he accepted a prize symbolic of humankind’s most formal aspiration of peace, and that much of the world went along with it, is a very low point during his time in office and for all of us.
Joe Sabet, 28
Garden Grove, CA
A Smile and Stiletto
The high point was his election and inauguration and his seeming willingness to try to extend the New Deal and Great Society. Knowing full well our history, I still shudder with profound emotion upon thinking of that election night and the gathering in Chicago (I’m a middle-aged white guy, by the way). My major disappointments are two: the capitulation to the bankers, the hiring of Geithner and Summers (although great credit must be given to the hiring of Elizabeth Warren), and turning a deaf ear to the likes of Paul Krugman and Stiglitz. I was astounded that Obama did not see that we needed (and need now) an FDR-style works program. I was and am astounded that Obama put his complete faith in Reaganomics and nothing in Keynesian economics. This is gonna bite him hard and may well make him a mediocre one-term president.
Second, and in regards to healthcare, the “Tea Party,” etc., his timidity to call people out; his lack of fight; his lack of passion (when people are dying); his innate diplomatic impulses to immediately compromise and concede. I didn’t expect this or see it prior. I am still somewhat understanding because I suspect his handlers–one in particular–have been busy playing politics (Clinton era) and not encouraging true leadership.
Someone said recently that FDR carried a smile and a stiletto in his pocket—Obama needs to go beyond the love affair with his smile (which is fantastic) and learn how to use that stiletto–he has to learn how to kill; because his opposition knows and does it as easily as first morning’s breath over a cup of coffee.
John Lawrence, 55
Key Largo, FL
Won’t Get Fooled Again
The high points of Obama’s first year in office was the fact that he won the election, that the nation once again had reason to hope, that change was possible. I should have known better. That’s what a charismatic public speaker can do. Damn! Hoodwinked again!
In his first year in office our semi-black corporate shill of a president has been just a continuation of Wall Street business as usual. Even more spending on militarism, habeas corpus denial, healthcare in an even worse quagmire. At every step he’s played the hand of corporate America. And the military-industrial complex marches on under a new banner. I’m sorry I wasted my vote on Obama, and now you must excuse me, for reverse peristalsis is setting in. I won’t be fooled again.
John R. Hall
Obama Brings Some Relief
I hit a high point every time the media covers President Obama, negative and positive. The eight years preceding last year I could hardly read or watch without feeling deeply embarrassed (and worried!) for the United States–in regards to terrorism, economics, baseball, substance abuse, education, etc. I essentially breathe a sigh of relief every time President Obama is brought up as a topic of interest. Because no matter what our president’s critics say, they can’t accuse him of being illogical, unintelligent or poorly spoken.
I suppose my biggest regret is that the Republican Party has so rallied itself around opposing President Obama that they have alienated a man who has more closely aligned himself with professed Republican policy interests than with his own Democratic party. Then again, of course the people, the independents and the pundits cry for a moderate candidate to unite Congress, only to cry louder to protest said moderate candidate after they elect him!
Nice Swing, but No Follow-Through
President Obama’s high point is his well-crafted speeches. The president’s low point is his follow-through. From the start it seems that those who would ignore him knew that they could get away with it. Nut-and-yahoo refused to stop new settlements at the request of the president but was more than pleased that the US vetoed the UN resolution calling Israel guilty of some war crimes in the Gaza invasion almost immediately thereafter. This was the start. Since then everybody realized that Obama may be “disappointed” in them, but that would be the extent of his reaction. Oh, and by the way, he is still talking about a bipartisan solution to our problems.
A Failed Promise
The high point? That’s easy: his election. Such promise, such potential, such hope. I felt proud to be a citizen. It appeared as if we had irretrievably rounded the corner of racial biases, as if we finally had someone in the White House who reflected our progressive dreams.
The low point? That’s a little tougher because there’s so many of them. It started with his appointment of Summers and Geithner and the bank bailout. But I was willing to give him the benefit of doubt. Maybe it was better to put the foxes in charge of the chickens. Maybe he knew something I didn’t. Then he escalated the war in Afghanistan and my confidence was seriously shaken. And all the while he failed to lead the healthcare effort, despite his campaign promises. By the time Lieberman, Nelson and their ilk had dictated their terms on a pliant Senate, I had lost all faith in him. And lets not forget his failure to act on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and to bring the war criminals of the Bush years to account.
But I guess the absolute low point would be his statement two days ago that Congress should not “jam” the healthcare bill until Scott Brown was seated. That takes real gall! The Democrats control two branches but legislating in accord with the majority of the voting public is considered “jamming.” He is either delusional or just another paid front man. I’m done with him and his stooges. He’ll be a one-term president, and good riddance. Let’s hope a real populist rises from the ashes of Obama’s failed promise.
Stefan Athanasiadis, 57
We Want a Pitcher, Not a Glass of Water
No question, Obama’s first year has been a disappointment. Not because of the economy; nobody could have fixed that right away. But because he doesn’t stand up for what he believes. Instead of taking a lead on everything from the ineffective way or “war on terrorism” is being waged to the drive for real healthcare reform, he has either kept the status quo ante or hid behind Congress. As we used to chant in Little League, we want a pitcher not a glass of water. Obama seems barely even to be a glass, with no water in sight.
The high point: Obama selects the family dog.
The low point: Everything else.
Alex Hendrick, 47
Los Angeles, CA
Desperate, Not Disappointed
“Disappointment.” How typically American to choose such a limp and measly word to use in light of the truly frightening point in history that our country, and the world, finds itself in. But since that is the word you have chosen: I have no “disappointments” because Mr. Obama has performed exactly as I expected him to, which is why I didn’t vote for him.
My “disappointment “continues to be with the woefully and willfully uninformed, ignorant, arrogant and childish American people who allow themselves to be lulled into submission by increasingly astute spin doctors who function at the behest of powerful corporations, to the detriment of us all (and by “us,” I mean the world). One can only hope that our national somnambulism will end and true leaders like Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold, Cynthia McKinney, Alan Grayson and a handful of others will leave the confines of our corrupt political system and start a new party that is truly democratic, that they will enlist the aid of some of our own, and other countries’, great thinkers (Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Joseph Stiglitz, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy), and that they will promote an intelligent, free and independent press (Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Flanders, Al Jazeera News, Mosaic News, LinkTV).
Our country, as it stands now, is an imperialistic bully that squanders trillions of dollars for a military budget that brings no security, but instead endangers our own citizens and slaughters millions around the world. Meanwhile, thousands of Americans are dying from lack of adequate healthcare, our children are woefully uneducated, our economy continues its steep downslide and our infrastructure is crumbling. Those are the facts, and we’d better face up to them very, very quickly. Disappointed? I think we’re desperate.
Terri Tafreshi, 57
San Rafael, CA
Still Holding on to Hope
The sharpest moment of disappointment is obviously the Massachusetts election. But even before that I was dismayed to see that the Obama administration was choosing to ignore its base and any kind of progressive change in this country. The healthcare thing was a horrible experience for everyone, Democrat and Republican alike. The polls were showing that the public wanted the public option. They got it when the president and the Congress didn’t. The easiest thing would have been to enact Medicare for everyone. It would have been long done and moved on down the line. Obama has dithered and waffled and used too many words and not enough action. Wall Street and the Banks continue to run amok. People are still getting screwed and they know it.
Right now is our lowest moment, I hope. There is nowhere to go but up. The president’s reaching out to other nations has been the high point. Also, he and his wife are a class act. For those two things we can be proud.
Downhill Since Election Night
My high point was being part of the ecstatic crowd in Times Square election night. It has been downhill since.
My biggest disappointment was how Obama did not start off with a strong, symbolic step that he could have easily and unilaterally done, such as ordering the Joint Chiefs of Staff to end discrimination against gays in the military. Disappointment has continued unabated, especially with his healthcare betrayal and bank sellout.
Steve Juniper, 71