A democratic take on Obama’s first year

by Emma DiNapoli

President Barack Obama’s first year in office has just ended; 2009 was a tumultuous year, with economic struggle, further strife in the Middle East and divides appearing within the Democratic Party. Four key issues can define Obama’s first year, deservedly or not: healthcare reform, his handling of military affairs, environmental issues and the economy.

B: Healthcare reform—President Obama took a risk in introducing one of the most comprehensive healthcare reform plans since President Truman. A president’s legacy is often shaped by the legislation he (or she) pushes through Congress in the first 100 days. Notably, his legislation will increase the cost of healthcare for Americans by less than one percent, which does not constitute a significant financial burden on the general population. Unfortunately, Obama has failed to moderate debate on the bill, allowing his legislation to become watered down, particularly in regards to abortion and a government option. Whatever the ultimate result, Obama will have succeeded in breaking the barrier for future healthcare reform and providing eventual healthcare coverage for all Americans, a major accomplishment.

A: Military involvement—As recent polls have shown, Americans generally support Obama’s handling of affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 53 percent of people approve of Obama. In early December, Obama ordered an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan—to make a total of 100,00 troops by Christmas— to defeat Taliban insurgents and bring leader Osama bin Laden’s reign of terror to an end. Though I am skeptical about Obama’s promise to bring the troops home in less than 18 months, Obama effectively had no choice but to continue the work begun by President Bush, and I respect his decisions.

B-: Environmental issues—On the campaign trail, Obama promised legislation to bring green technology and jobs to the United States, as well as to preserve the natural resources of our country. After the past year, I have been very disappointed in Obama’s commitment—or lack thereof—to the environment. Since his election, clear-cutting in Alaska eliminated 381 acres of rainforest, additional mountaintop removal sites have been approved and the United States failed to take a stand at the Copenhagen convention on climate change. At the same time, Obama’s administration has provided billions of stimulus dollars for a green economy and overturned several Bush-era changes to environmental policies. Obama has had to fight against an unwilling Congress on several fronts; unfortunately, the environment has had to take the backseat for a year.

B: Economy—The unemployment rate across the United States is almost uniformly 10%, a sign that the economic recession is in its final throes. While recreating jobs could require a further governmental spending spree, the Obama administration has successfully prevented a full-blown economic depression. Budget deficits, a gift from the Bush administration, remain a significant problem facing both the federal and state governments, but Obama must be commended for his continued efforts in creating new jobs, as well as his refusal to single-handedly save irresponsible automobile and banking corporations despite pressure.

President Obama has not been the change I thought he would be, I’ll admit it. He’s been over-handled since entering office, often absent from the public eye, and seems generally unwilling to defend the policies he truly believes in. Pressure from a Congress worried about midterm elections has Obama upsettingly silent about the issues he ran his campaign on. Obama should worry less about re-election; why not burn some bridges? I would rather our president look at himself every morning and know he stood up for his beliefs than win another election after being just another politician. President Obama deserves a “B” grade for his first year in office for being partially successful yet too passive.