My own view is that 2009 has been an extraordinarily successful year for Obama. Since this is currently a minority view and will prompt a chorus of "In The Tank!", allow me to explain.
The substantive record is clear enough. Torture is ended, if Gitmo remains enormously difficult to close and rendition extremely hard to police. The unitary executive, claiming vast, dictatorial powers over American citizens, has been unwound. The legal inquiries that may well convict former Bush officials for war crimes are underway, and the trial of KSM will reveal the lawless sadism of the Cheney regime that did so much to sabotage our war on Jihadism. Military force against al Qaeda in Pakistan has been ratcheted up considerably, even at a civilian cost that remains morally troubling. The US has given notice that it intends to leave Afghanistan with a bang - a big surge, a shift in tactics, and a heavy batch of new troops. Iraq remains dodgy in the extreme, but at least March elections have been finally nailed down.
Domestically, the new president has rescued the banks in a bail-out that has come in at $200 billion under budget; the economy has shifted from a tailspin to stablilization and some prospect of job growth next year; the Dow is at 10,500 a level no one would have predicted this time last year. A stimulus package has helped undergird infrastructure and probably did more to advance non-carbon energy than anything that might have emerged from Copenhagen. Universal health insurance (with promised deficit reduction!) is imminent - a goal sought by Democrats (and Nixon) for decades, impossible under the centrist Clinton, but won finally by a black liberal president. More progress has been made in unraveling the war on drugs this past year than in living memory. The transformation of California into a state where pot is now more available than in Amsterdam is as remarkable as the fact that such new sanity has spread across the country and is at historic highs, so to speak, in the opinion polls. On civil rights, civil marriage came to the nation's capital city, which has a 60 percent black population. If that doesn't help reverse some of the gloom from Prop 8 and Maine, what would? And, yes, the unspeakable ban on HIV-positive foreigners was finally lifted, bringing the US back to the center of the global effort to fight AIDS as it should be.
Relations with Russia have improved immensely and may yield real gains in non-proliferation; Netanyahu has moved, however insincerely, toward a two-state solution; Iran's coup regime remains far more vulnerable than a year ago, paralyzed in its diplomacy, terrified of its own people and constantly shaken by the ongoing revolution; Pakistan launched a major offensive against al Qaeda and the Taliban in its border area; global opinion of the US has been transformed; the Cairo speech and the Nobel acceptance speech helped explain exactly what Obama's blend of ruthless realism for conflict-management truly means.
The Beltway cannot handle all this. And that's why they continue to jump on every micro-talking-point and forget vast forests for a few failing saplings.
But when you consider the magnitude of shifting from one conservative era to one in which government simply has to be deployed to tackle deep structural problems, the achievement is as significant as his election year.
I remain, in other words, extremely bullish on the guy. There is a huge amount to come - finding a way to bring down long-term debt, ensuring health insurance reform stays on track and reformed constantly to control costs, turning the corner on non-carbon energy, reforming entitlements, finding a new revenue stream like a VAT, preventing Israel from attacking Iran, preventing Iran's coup regime from going even roguer, withdrawing from an Iraq still teetering on new sectarian conflict, avoiding a second downturn, closing Gitmo for good, ending the gay ban in the military ... well, you get the picture.
Change of this magnitude is extremely hard. That it is also frustrating, inadequate, compromised, flawed, and beset with bribes and trade-offs does not, in my mind, undermine it. Obama told us it would be like this - and it is. And those who backed him last year would do better, to my mind, if they appreciated the difficulty of this task and the diligence and civility that Obama has displayed in executing it.
Yes, we have. And yes, we still are the ones we've been waiting for - if we still care enough to swallow purism and pride and show up for the less emotionally satisfying grind of real, practical, incremental reform.
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