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Posted by on Nov 29, 2009 in Economy, Health, Media, Politics, Society | 23 comments

You Call This “Nothing”?

What has Pres. Barack Obama accomplished in his first year in office? To hear conservatives and Republicans tell it, the answer is “nothing.” This, from enthusiastic supporters of the party that has enthusiastically voted “No” on every single piece of legislation this administration has put in front of them. What has the Republican Party accomplished to pull itself out of the doldrums to date? A “purity test” that even Ronald Reagan couldn’t pass!

All of the above explains why I find it so refreshing to read Jacob Weisberg’s assessment of Obama’s first year — “brilliant.” Indeed, Weisberg  writes that “by January, [Obama] will have accomplished more than any first-year president since Franklin Roosevelt.”

The case for Obama’s successful freshman year rests above all on the health care legislation now awaiting action in the Senate. Democrats have been trying to pass national health insurance for 60 years. Past presidents who tried to make it happen and failed include Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Through the summer, Obama caught flak for letting Congress lead the process, as opposed to setting out his own proposal. Now his political strategy is being vindicated. …

We are so submerged in the details of this debate … that it’s easy to lose sight of the magnitude of the impending change. For the federal government to take responsibility for health coverage will be a transformation of the American social contract and the single biggest change in government’s role since the New Deal. If Obama governs for four or eight years and accomplishes nothing else, he may be judged the most consequential domestic president since LBJ. He will also undermine the view that Ronald Reagan permanently reversed a 50-year tide of American liberalism.

Obama’s claim to a fertile first year doesn’t rest on health care alone. There’s mounting evidence that the $787 billion economic stimulus he signed in February—combined with the bank bailout package—prevented an economic depression. …

When it comes to foreign policy, Obama’s accomplishment has been less tangible but hardly less significant: He has put America on a new footing with the rest of the world. In a series of foreign trips and speeches, which critics deride as trips and speeches, he replaced George W. Bush’s unilateral, moralistic militarism with an approach that is multilateral, pragmatic, and conciliatory.  …

TMV’s Michael Stickings, writing at his own blog, speculates that at least part of why Obama has gotten so little credit, even among his supporters, relative to how much he has accomplished can be traced to the irony of high expectations:

It’s like, if he doesn’t remodel the entire American way of life for the better — fixing health care, righting the economy, reversing global warming, ending terrorism, establishing world peace — he is somehow deemed, even by those inclined to continue to support him, by those who generally agree with him, to be a failure. It is to be expected that conservatives wish failure upon him, and upon America if he can be blamed and they can score some political points, and applaud his perceived failure at every turn, but it is disheartening when those who should know better, those who should have the good sense not to rush to judgement, criticized him with such gusto.

Or, as Steve Benen puts it, “There have been plenty of painful missed opportunities, but as first years go, this isn’t bad.”

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