One Year Later, Pundits Mull Regrets Over Obama's Election

Grading President Obama one year after his historic election

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High hopes swept Barack Obama into office one year ago, and but even his most ardent followers admit that 2008's election-day euphoria has faded. One year later, a CNN poll finds that Obama's approval rating (54%) is essentially the same as the percent of the vote he won last year. Still, columnists are giving the president mixed grades for his performance in challenging times—from the economic crisis to political polarization to the war in Afghanistan. Few who voted for Obama are expressing regret, but nearly all have advice on where he's gone wrong, what he's done right, and what he needs to do to renew the enthusiasm that got him to the White House.

  • A Record You Can Believe In  At The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson wishes the president were tougher. But, he says, Obama is "a president, not a Hollywood action hero." He says the Obama administration has learned lessons the hard way this year.
Most of my frustration is really with the process of getting anything done in Washington, which is not something Obama can unilaterally change, nimbly circumvent or blithely ignore. One thing the new administration clearly did not anticipate was that Republicans in Congress would be so consistently and unanimously obstructionist -- or that Democrats would have to be introduced to the alien concept of party discipline. It took the White House too long to realize that bipartisanship is a tango and that there's no point in dancing alone.
  • Regrets In Iowa Spell Trouble  Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times reports that one year later, many Iowans regret voting for Barack Obama. Zeleny says regrets in this bellwether state are foreboding for Democrats. "An erosion of support from independents and disapproval from Republicans suggests that the coalition Mr. Obama built to win the White House is frayed."
  • The President Lost His Way  At The Huffington Post, liberal lioness Arianna Huffington has become one of Obama's most vocal critics on the left. She says "the spark" that Obama's campaign lit over a year ago "has not been preserved," and that "we are a less strong country for it." Huffington wants the president to live up to the words of the candidate. "If the president wants to make sure he doesn't let down the millions who believed he really would change the rotten system, he should read the The Audacity to Win from beginning to end -- and rediscover a whole host of things he knows, but seems to have forgotten. Then he can complete the journey from The Audacity of Hope and The Audacity To Win to The Audacity to Govern."
  • Obama Must Be a Jobs President  At Salon, Robert Reich says health care is important, but it's unemployment that threatens to define Obama's presidency. "If Obama and the Democrats lose one or both houses of Congress in the midterms, it will be because the president learned only the most superficial lesson of the Clinton years. Healthcare reform is critically important. But when one out of six Americans is unemployed or underemployed, getting the nation back to work is more so." 
  • Should We Have Voted For Hillary Instead?  At DoubleX, a women's blog, Emily Bazelon says one thing is for sure: "If Hillary were president, we'd either have more troops on the way to Afghanistan by now or we wouldn't. She wouldn't have taken her time to ruminate the way Obama is doing, because the barbs about weakness and dithering would have sunk in deeper." She recalls how complicated it was to explain to older women why she supported Obama instead.
Sometimes when I talked to older women who felt mystified by the diffidence of women like me, I felt traitorous, like a feminist Red Riding Hood who'd lost her way. I wanted to give them the reassurance they were looking for without giving them my vote. They're over it, I think—the women's vote helped carry Obama. But imagining Hillary as president makes me remember why I couldn't dismiss their voices then. You could be a good feminist and vote against Hillary, but you had to be a more complicated feminist. You had to see that -ism as one of several parts of your identity, and not give it primacy. I'm all for complexity, but sometimes it's tiring. Also harder to explain.
  • On Foreign Policy, a Mixed Bag  At Foreign Policy Magazine, international experts grade President Obama's global policies, and find that the White House "isn't doing so well." How'd the Obama team do? "Obama scored only an average of a B-: five As, nine Bs, four Cs, and five Ds."
What happened? Some argue that Obama's real policies haven't (and couldn't possibly) match his rhetorical brilliance. Others argue he has punted where he should have played, such as on the question of strategy in Afghanistan and the presidential crisis in Honduras. Still others argue that while the sheen may have faded, the policies remain sound.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.