Obama, one year later

An evaluation of the president's first year


A year ago, the mood in Boulder was elation. After eight years of nightmarish governance at the hands of the Bush-Cheney administration, voters had finally put a man in office who reflected our values, who seemed like he was our president. On Jan. 20, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the nation’s 44th president, thousands of locals watched the inauguration live with their friends, many gathered in coffee houses, sports bars or breakfast joints — any place with live television. When the commentator announced that it was noon in Washington, D.C., and that Obama was technically president of the United States even though he had yet to take the oath of office, the roar was deafening, and there were tears in more than a few eyes.

Fast-forward a year, and the elation has long since faded. Over the past 12 months, there’s been less of the “change we can believe in” and more of the “politics as usual” than many of us were prepared to endure — haters and right-wing pundits who turn every action by Obama into a conspiracy theory; wheeling and dealing with Wall Street CEOs, Big Pharma and health insurance companies; endless Congressional bickering; the expansion of war.

Perhaps Obama’s election signaled less of a change in American society than many supposed it did. Or perhaps those who supported him haven’t held up their end of the bargain, failing to back him up with phone calls to Congress, rallies and the kind of energetic activism that put Obama in the White House in the first place. Or maybe Obama was less inclined to idealism and more interested in pragmatism than his supporters realized.

Over the course of the past 12 months, Boulder Weekly responded to Obama’s actions with ratings on our Obameter, which ran on the paper’s editorial pages. This entirely subjective effort to keep tabs on the performance of this newly elected president resulted in low ratings as often as it resulted in high ratings.

We were unhappy with his lack of action on GLBTQ issues and his bailout of Wall Street, pleased with his support of renewable energy and the way he interacted with other world leaders, but dismayed by the compromises he seemed willing to make with regard to health care reform. Whether you agreed with us depended, of course, on your political point of view.

What follows is a more objective look at President Obama and his first 12 months in office.



Obama’s performance on the economy in his first year can be described as a mixed bag at best. At worst, it has been the area in which he has demonstrated the fewest results so far.

The most recent surveys at Pollster.com show that a majority of those responding (51.2 percent) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the nation’s economic troubles, while 43.4 percent approve of his performance in that area.

But according to Politifact.com’s “Obameter” — hey, did they get that name from us? — 15 out of the 20 economic pledges he made were rated positively, as either “in the works” or “promise kept.” Promises kept include creating a foreclosure prevention fund for homeowners, increasing minority access to capital, expanding loan programs for small businesses and extending unemployment insurance benefits.

Still, with unemployment in the double digits, the efforts Obama has made either haven’t worked well or haven’t worked yet. The rate of unemployment growth is slowing, however, so there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. According to news reports, the number of jobs lost in December was lower than the number lost in November.

The jury is still out on what effect the $787 billion federal stimulus package is having on the economy, since only time will tell whether the enormous debt we are deferring to the future will have been worth the benefits of any jumpstart given to the economy.

This is one of the most disappointing areas of Obama’s first year in office, but progress over the next three years could eclipse the dissatisfaction. If the economy rebounds, and at least partial credit can be attributed to the stimulus package and other Obama efforts, this year of economic woes could become a mere blip on the radar of this president’s legacy.

An economy cannot turn on a dime, but at the same time, blaming Bush can only work for so long.



Obama’s performance on education, considered early on to be one of his strengths, has slipped in the public’s eye, although it certainly shouldn’t be considered a weakness.

Politifact.com gives positive marks to 14 of the 20 education promises that Obama made on the campaign trail. But only three were ranked as a “promise kept.” Those were expanding funding to train primary care providers and public health practitioners; providing affordable, high-quality child care; and recruiting math and science degree graduates to the teaching profession. (The latter pledge hit close to home last week when University of Colorado at Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano was among the leaders of only four universities nationwide invited to the White House to pledge support for addressing the national shortage of math and science teachers.)

Only one of Obama’s campaign promises was rated as a “promise broken”: doubling funding for after-school programs.

The 11 pledges that Politifact.com ranked as “in the works” — compared to only two rated as “stalled” — means that by this measure at least, he is making slow but sure progress.

A Dec. 3-6 Ipsos Public Affairs poll showed that 49 percent of respondents believe Obama is doing a satisfactory job on education, compared to the 22 percent who said he is not — a significant drop in approval since he took office. In a similar poll conducted last February, 61 percent had rated him as satisfactory on education, and only 11 percent described his performance as unsatisfactory.

On the higher education front, perhaps one of the most visible and heartening changes Obama has made has been simply to clear out the Bush administration’s air of anti-intellectualism on scientific issues like climate change, a field in which findings were twisted, suppressed and/or undermined for political purposes under Obama’s predecessor.


Environment and energy policy

President Obama’s solution to solving the world’s climate change and United States’ energy policy woes has been through focusing on homegrown energy sources. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included more than $80 billion in clean-energy investments intended to create clean-energy jobs, reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and cut our carbon pollution by about 80 percent by 2050.

The stimulus package includes $11 billion for developing a smarter
grid that will direct renewable energy from the rural production plants
to cities. Also, 40 million smart meters, like those already in service
in the city of Boulder, will be installed in American homes. The
stimulus package includes $5 billion for low-income home weatherization
projects, $4.5 billion to “green” federal buildings and cut our public
energy bill, $6.3 billion for state and local renewable energy and
energyefficiency efforts, $600 million in green job training programs
($100 million to expand worker training programs and $500 million for
green workforce training), and $2 billion in grants to develop
batteries to store energy for plug-in hybrids.

initiatives include modernizing federal buildings, which will reduce
longterm energy costs, and providing grants to states to weatherize
hundreds of thousands of homes, which will save homeowners about $350
each year on average.

are eligible for up to $1,500 in tax credits to purchase more efficient
cooling and heating systems and insulation to reduce their energy
bills. Obama issued a memorandum to the Department of Energy to create
more assertive efficiency standards for household appliances, which
over the next three decades will save us twice the amount of energy
produced by all the coal-fired power plants in America in any given

For the
first time since the mid-80s, fuel economy standards will increase for
model year 2011 for cars and trucks. Obama plans to buy a fleet of
17,600 American-made, fuel-efficient cars and trucks for the
government. After the $64 billion bailout given to General Motors and
Chrysler, Obama expects those automakers to build cars of the future —
clean-energy cars and cars that meet fuel economy standards, straying
away from SUVs, which leaves Americans dependent on foreign oil.

to Politifact.com, most of Obama’s energy policy promises have been
fulfilled or are in the works. Obama kept his promise to create a
partnership with Americans to increase research and development in
clean coal technology, sustainable biofuels, wind, solar and nuclear
energy. He kept his promise to encourage farmers to use more renewable
energy and be more energy efficient. He also kept his promise to
establish a program to convert manufacturing centers into clean
technology leaders. But Politifact.com says Obama has also stalled with
other energy matters, like enacting a windfall profits tax for oil
companies. This would require oil companies to take a share of their
recordbreaking profits and donate it to help families deal with the
rising price of gasoline, food, etc. He has also stalled in swapping
oil from the StrategicPetroleum Reserve to cut gas prices.

the most part, however, Obama seems to have kept his word when it comes
to energy and the environment. By channeling stimulus funds toward
energy, he has taken small steps toward addressing climate change and
decreasing our dependence on foreign oil.


The Middle East

been a focal point of violence since before the Roman Empire forcefully
expanded its borders to the region thousands of years ago. It’s been
witness to conquests and crusades, but also to somuch culture that’s helped shape the world.

In the lead-up to the 2008 election, it was also the focal point on the campaign trail for Barack Obama.

Middle East. Two wars raging — one, in Iraq, in need of scaling back,
and another, in Afghanistan, in need of ramping up, at least according
to Obama during his campaign.

July 2008, the then-presidential candidate said “combat troops” could
be out of Iraq by the summer of 2010. It would become the crux of his

“I opposed the war in Iraq before it began,
and would end it as president,” Obama wrote in an op-ed piece published
in The New York Times that summer. He put a 16-month timetable on
withdrawing troops after he took office. Still, he cautioned, “As I’ve
said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were
careless getting in.”

the war in Iraq continues. But on Feb. 27 of last year, President Obama
formally announced the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, and a
“transition to full Iraqi responsibility” by Aug. 31.

The deadline was three months later than promised in his campaign, but at least it was a steadfast date.

me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission
in Iraq will end,” Obama said in a speech at Camp Lejeune in North

the president plans to keep 35,000-50,000 troops — down from roughly
140,000 — through 2011 to help train local troops through the
transition. Is this another “Mission Accomplished” moment, or will this
move actually help move toward accomplishing the mission? Hard to say.

the threat in Afghanistan has grown. In 2009, the combat there saw
nearly twice as many deaths (300) as Iraq (148) — yet the U.S. force in
Afghanistan is less than half that of the one currently occupying Iraq.

in a speech he gave in August 2007, and then reiterated again and again
on the campaign trail, Obama promised to deploy two additional brigades
to the country. Last month, he ordered an additional 30,000 troops to
the region.

When the build-up is complete by the end of this year, it will bring the total U.S. force in Afghanistan to around 100,000.


Homeland security

Homeland security was
thrust to the forefront of Americans’ minds on Christmas Day, when
23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate an
explosive device on a plane bound for Detroit. Clearly, U.S.
intelligence agencies, which failed to prevent 9/11, still can’t
connect all the dots.

During has campaign,
opponents targeted Barack Obama as weak and inexperienced in his stance
against terrorism, especially when it came to the homefront. Obama
responded with a series of plans and promises related to homeland
security. Among them:

Ensure that the National Guard and Reserve fulfill its main duty —
protecting the nation at home, and acting as a support structure in
cases of national emergencies, such as the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina. He planned to do that through increased funding, and less
“cannibalizing” of units and equipment for missions abroad. In
December, a bill was submitted that will allocate $950 million to the
National Guard and Reserve. A planned removal of combat troops from
Iraq in August should also address the use of domestic units abroad.

Improve the nation’s first response system. Obama specifically targeted
the communication network, and increased support for local emergency
plans — both through funding and through federal resources and
logistical support. The administration has yet to directly address the
communication network, though it’s been brought up repeatedly as an
on-going issue since he tookoffice. Still, the 2010 budget calls for a $21 million increase over 2009 in terms of funding for first responders.

Eradicate terrorism worldwide so the threat doesn’t reach home.
Obviously a lofty goal, but Obama’s target was Al Qaeda. Specifically,
he said he wanted to ensure that the military was prepared with the
best equipment and training. As mentioned earlier, Congress has
allocated $950 million for the National Guard and Reserve — but what of
the other branches of the military?

Strengthen American security against biological threats. Obama’s plan
included increasing security at U.S. ports and airports. Last month,
the president released his National Strategy for Countering Biological
Threats, which includes research to combat diseases and protect the
public against biological weapons. It’s a start.


Health care

Whether you agree with
Obama’s health care plan or not, you can’t deny the history he’s made
with pushing for the reformation of the country’s ailing health care
system. On Nov. 7, the House of Representatives passed the Affordable
Health Care for America Act, which included some of Obama’s biggest
sticking points, like affordable health care options for all Americans,
making it illegal to deny insurance coverage based on pre-existing
health conditions and removing caps on annual and lifetime coverage.
The Senate passed its version of the bill, the Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act, on Dec. 24, making it the first time in history
that a health care reform bill has gotten this far in Congress.

Detractors of the bill fear that it will increase the national deficit, while Democrats say the bill will actually reduce the
deficit. Other critics say Americans could be forced from their current
insurance plans into a government-controlled health care system.

Obama has been steadfast in pushing for reform because, as he said in
his Sept. 9 speech to a joint session of Congress, the country can no
longer sit on its hands.

understand how difficult this health care debate has been,” he said. “I
know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is
looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would
be to kick the can further down the road — to defer reform one more
year, or one more election, or one more term.

that is not what the moment calls for. That’s not what we came here to
do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”

The bill, however, still faces an uphill battle. The Joint Conference Committee must resolve the differences between the House and the Senate versions of the bill, and then it must be approved by Congress.



According to
the Washington Post, there are more than 12 million undocumented
immigrants in the United States, and immigration reform was a
hot-button issue during the presidential campaign. In recent years the
United States tried to battle the problem by beefing up 600 miles of
security fencing along the Mexico-U.S. border and doubling the number
of border patrol officers.

In his first year,
Obama made no moves of consequence. Over the past year, Obama had a few
more pressing issues, like the economy, a couple of wars and health
care reform. But the president says he wants to find a “tough but fair
pathway to citizenship,” for undocumented immigrants that are already
in the country — and for those that want to come here.

can create a system in which you have … an orderly process for people
to come in, but we’re also giving an opportunity for those who are
already in the United States to be able to achieve a pathway to
citizenship so that they don’t have to live in the shadows,” Obama said
during a news conference in downtown Guadalajara, Mexico, last August.

says he also plans to “crack down” on employers who hire undocumented
immigrants by removing tax incentives and requiring proof of
citizenship or legal residency of their employees. Discussions on the
immigration issue among legislators have already begun, so expect more
action on this issue in 2010.


does all of this mean? It depends on how you interpret it. But it’s
clear that Obama, while breaking some promises, has maintained a
general trajectory toward the goals he outlined during his campaign.
For example, while some on the left are angry with the build-up of
troops in Afghanistan, Obama was clear about that issue from the start.

some of the disillusionment felt by the liberal left is the result of
overly lofty expectations. Did we secretly hope that Obama would move
into the White House and fix everything so that it suited us?

the end, politicians are a reflection of the citizens they represent.
So perhaps the most important question is this: What have we as
individuals done to initiate change in our lives and the lives of
others over the past 12 months?

Politifact.com, Pollster.com, Ipsos Public Affairs, WhiteHouse.gov,
Changes.gov, America.gov,WhiteHouse2. org, NewYorkTimes.com,