A year after his election, Obama's promise of change remains unfulfilled, and his country as divided as ever. But he could yet be one of the greatest presidents America has ever hadby James Crabtree / October 21, 2009 / Leave a comment
Read James Crabtree’s Obama anniversary blog, arguing why—despite the setbacks—the president is doing just fine
One year on from his election victory, how should we judge President Barack Obama? He has passed a $787bn (£500bn) stimulus package and a $3.4 trillion budget, bailed out America’s floundering car makers, and launched landmark legislation to reform healthcare, tighten regulation on a crippled financial sector, and cut greenhouse gases. Against a backdrop of economic chaos and partisan division, and especially if some form of health reform passes by the end of the year, Obama’s early record will look impressive. It’s been a good start.
That said, a president who promised unity has also brought discord. The saner wings of the American right (and some Democrats) worry that his moderate tone hides policies that dangerously expand the grip of the state, and the depth of its debt. The less sane gather in the streets and howl about the road to socialism. Critics on the left, meanwhile, already see a once-in-a-generation missed opportunity. Obama has a thumping electoral mandate, and control of congress. Yet he stimulated the economy too little, and fluffed a perfect moment to bring in radical measures to take on America’s banks and health insurers. Behind these worries, doubts lurk about what the president stands for, and whether the “Obama-ism” implicit in his campaign can translate into governance. Put more simply: has Obama begun to change Washington, or has Washington begun to change him?
I travelled to the US in August to get a closer look at his progress. In the stifling heat of late summer, and against a backdrop of raucous conservative street protests, I found the administration’s early self-confidence quickly giving way to nervousness in the Democratic establishment and an acute awareness of the high wire on which Obama walks. The stimulus hadn’t stopped unemployment nudging past 10 per cent. Healthcare and climate change reforms lay stalled amid congressional bickering. Attempts at bipartisanship had been rebuffed. Democratic operatives, sensing blood, whispered ominously about which of Obama’s senior staff would be culled if healthcare failed. A few months later and the mood is better, buoyed by a fresh push on healthcare legislation that now looks likely to pass. Nonetheless, Obama’s reputation remains precariously poised between success and failure, and a number of well-placed figures worry that he could still lose in the only way that truly counts—and serve only one…