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Tough reviews for Obama’s first year
Question of the Day
A year ago, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of anti-war protest group Code Pink, was seated on the Capitol’s West Front, 100 feet from the inauguration stage, watching Barack Obama be sworn in as president.
On Wednesday, she and other progressive leaders will rally outside the White House to decry the record of that first year.
Mr. Obama’s hope-and-change coalition has frayed under anger from the right and dissatisfaction from the left — reflecting a seismic shift in the political landscape in just a few months.
“This is not the change we believed in,” Ms. Benjamin said. “Instead of peace, we got more war; instead of health care reform, we have an industry bonanza; instead of environmental leadership, we’ve got ‘clean coal’; and, of course, Wall Street firms got record profits and bonuses [while] unemployment is at double digits.”
Republican Scott Brown’s victory in a Senate special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday to fill Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat only deepened the despair.
“The reason Ted Kennedy’s seat is no longer controlled by a Democrat is clear: Washington’s inability to deliver the change voters demanded in November 2008. Make no mistake, political paralysis resulted in electoral failure,” said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union.
While Mr. Obama himself remains popular, his job approval ratings have slid on issue after issue, and his party has taken a beating in off-year and special elections.
The furor on the right is easy to explain. Republicans, in the distinct minority in both the House and Senate, concluded early on that Mr. Obama would not incorporate their ideas, and instead prepared for battle.
But the anger on the left with Mr. Obama is more complicated and stems from a combination of half-won victories and battles left for later.
In Congress, Democrats approved a $787 billion stimulus bill and expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, but they have been unable to pass the president’s ambitious agenda of strengthening financial regulations, addressing climate change, overhauling the health care system and revamping immigration policies.
Even though Mr. Obama has taken unilateral steps to strengthen unions, increase transparency at the White House and lay the groundwork for reining in greenhouse gas emissions, he has been unable to meet his one-year deadline for closing the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs asked for patience and said Mr. Obama has learned during this first year “that change is never easy, that change takes time, that change has to go through Congress.”
He said Mr. Obama does not view the one-year mark as a special time to take stock of progress.
“I can assure you the president never thought that we’d wake up at 11:59 a.m., Jan. 20, 2010, and he would think, ‘Wow, I’ve finished it all and now what am I going to do?’ We always knew we’d have plenty to do,” Mr. Gibbs said.
Still, with health care reform hanging by a thread in Congress and leaders vowing to push forward, it’s unclear how much patience there is among rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers, particularly given the party’s track record in elections over the past year.
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About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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