With the state of the union address rapidly approaching, I want to highlight some excellent articles bringing Obama’s first year into perspective. Many people have become disheartened by the lack of swift action by the administration on many topics – health care, Iraq, the economy, etc. I’d encourage you to read Andrew Sullivan’s article: Obama’s Substantive First Year:
Obama is a liberal pragmatist in politics and a traditional conservative in his understanding of the presidency. Once you grasp this, his first year makes much more sense.
The article highlights Obama’s strengths and shortcomings in a calm, collected manner. Further reading on the year’s accomplishments:
- For more details on Obama’s military approach, I highly reccomend Wired‘s excellent profile of Secretary Gates back in September.
- GOOD Magazine ran an excellent infographic giving historical perspective to the first 100 days.
- Daily Kos also has a list of 90 Accomplishments of Pres. Obama which the Media Fails to Report.
All that is great – things have been getting done… so what’s our problem with Obama? The New Yorker addresses this succinctly – One Year: Storyteller-in-Chief:
I’ve been an Obama man all the way. I voted for him in 2008 and I’ll vote for him again in 2012, with far less enthusiasm. But it would help me out so much if he could give me some kind of story to hang onto. At this stage, a scrap would suffice. A President can have all the vision in the world, be an extraordinary orator and a superb politician, have courage and foresight and a willingness to make painful choices, have a bold progressive plan for his nation—but none of these things will matter a wit if the President cannot couch his vision, his policies, his courage, his will, his plan in the idiom of story.
People need stories to latch on to and remembering our personal narrative is vital to projecting our future. Obama would be wise to heed these words: after all, so much of his meteoric rise comes from his extraordinary storytelling (Dreams from My Father, anyone?).
As for me, I remain optimistic about the future of the administration. A great deal of current frustrations have to do with participation. 2008 was a never-ending deluge of political news and activism. Working for the campaign and delivering Indiana was the highlight of my year. In 2009 our nation had to unwind and reconcile our own drive for action with the notion that legislating is a full-time job, requiring a ton of expertise. The government is huge and most people don’t have time to read every bill, to learn the details of every issue – that’s why we are a representative democracy. I think a large part of liberal frustration comes from a headstrong dislike of delegation. We have to let those we elected do their job; our role as citizens is to give them feedback through our communications and then our votes.
From the inaugural address Obama knew he faced a myriad of difficult problems:
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
We still face serious challenges, but fortunately we have three (hopefully seven) more years. Let’s recognize those challenges “future work” and take solace what’s already been accomplished in this short portion of the excruciatingly slow march of progress. My hope for the State of the Union is that it frames our current challenges in the “unlikely story that is America”, reasserting that once again we will meet and far surpass our challenges.