Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hope Turns One

A year ago today, we elected Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, a fact that still has the power to leave me speechless if I think about it. (Yesterday on shuffle, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” started playing on my iPod and I found myself near tears on the subway.) Devotees of this blog will recall that I spent the good part of 2008 writing politically-charged posts, and in the past year I’ve written hardly any. I wonder why this is.

I think part of it is that I don’t want to join the masses of liberals (and, of course, conservatives) who have been berating Obama since January for all he hasn’t yet accomplished. It’s not that I don’t expect more of him—I do. He ran on a message of change and hope so powerful he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just for inspiring people. I realize that he is a politician and needs to keep the Republicans in Congress happy in order to get anything done, but I continue to be dismayed that he doesn’t decry the Defense of Marriage Act, and I think he could do a lot to further gay rights in the country if he just came out, as it were, in support of same sex marriage (I think that he believes in it personally, and that he needs to fight for it publicly). I want him to stand firm in his decision to shutter Guantanamo Bay. I want him to forget about 2012 and focus on what he can do while he’s in the White House now.

Of course, he faces many obstacles. The global economy is in a terrible recession, and the country is deep in debt. Housing, health care, infrastructure, the rising inequality in wealth, and re-regulating Wall Street are all pressing issues on the national stage. Not to mention, of course, finding Osama bin Laden and ending the war in Iraq so that Barack Hussein Obama does not become synonymous with Lyndon Baines Johnson.

It is to Obama’s credit that he has accomplished some important acts in his first year—contrary to what a recent SNL sketch implied (by the way Lorne, a minstrel show called. It wants its blackface back. Please, for the love of God, hire more black castmembers). He passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a children’s health insurance expansion, and just recently the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Preventions Act. He’s set aside more federal land as wilderness and he killed the F-22 program along with a few other defense boondoggles. Sure, these aren’t the big-ticket items, but they add up. And the feeling of pride I get when I listen to his strong, steady voice on the radio, pronouncing words correctly and making intelligent, cogent arguments? Priceless.

I was thinking today about how young our country is, and how unbelievable it seems that it took us 233 years to elect a non-white president. Sometimes I find myself thinking that it’s enough that we just elected Obama, that even if he’s a huge disappointment it will still have been worth it for the message his victory sent to the world. But I know that’s lazy logic; it doesn’t help anyone—not even his detractors—for him to fail. The country needs a strong leader right now. We need to feel hope, and we need to see change. I still believe that Obama can give us that.

The first year is over. It’s time for change to start.

[Update: A commenter pointed out that the first year isn't over until 1/20/10. I stand corrected. Barry, you have two more months before your review.]


  1. Anonymous2:07 PM

    You write: "The first year is over. It's time for a change to start."

    Obama's first year as president won't be over until January 21, 2010. I desperately want change, but Obama is dealing with a deeply entrenched system that is highly resistant to change, and he can't do it alone. I agree with you, but I am trying to be patient just a little longer.

  2. Anonymous3:17 AM

    Obama does not need to keep the GOP happy, he simply has little incentive to do anything that would make them unhappy. Democrats and Republicans may say different things, but are motivated by one of two things - Campaign donations or public outrage. Look at the current incarnation of the financial reform bill, and see if you can find any language that could be interpreted to prevent the type of behavior on Wall Street that caused last year's collapse.

    Two questions are asked in any legislation-related equation - where would the necessary funding come from, and how would that funding affect the major donors who largely finance re-election campaigns? For example, some of the money that would support a long-term plan for health care reform is supposed to come from the millions of dollars in lost revenue promised by tax reforms. However, those reforms will never materialize in any meaningful way because the most significant portions are those that affect large corporations. What do you think that means for health care legislation?

    Massive lobbying efforts often begin before a bill is even introduced, never mind the fact that the 2010 elections are just around the corner. So you have the House and 1/3 of the Senate busy with campaign fund-raising. The public outrage is divided between different causes (understandably so) or otherwise just exhausted from being overwhelmed and angry for so long. Remember how many voters attentively watched the AIG hearings and closely scrutinized every word that came out of any legislator's mouth? They definitely aren't watching anymore, and most likely won't vote again until the next presidential election. Hell, most of them are unemployed, broke, and/or so far in debt that it's not worth asking for contributions.


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