One year after his election, what has Obama achieved?
Obama got off to a quick start. But almost one year after winning the presidency, his deeds are at risk of paling next to his aspirations.
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Viewed through the prism of how “Obama so far” stacks up against past presidents, the issue of high expectations sits front and center. Twice since Obama’s election, Time magazine has run cover stories on what he can learn from Franklin Roosevelt, the last president to tackle both economic crisis and war. On one, Obama’s face is Photoshopped onto a famously jaunty picture of FDR. Obama himself has wrapped his image in the mantle of Abraham Lincoln.Skip to next paragraph
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Obama also set the bar high by imposing deadlines. On his first full day in office, he ordered the Guantánamo Bay prison camp closed in one year. In May, Obama was outmaneuvered in a congressional vote that bars the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the US, hindering his ability to place them in other countries as well. The closure deadline is likely to be missed.
Obama also gave Congress an early August deadline on healthcare reform, which it missed by a mile. “No one’s afraid of Obama,” the charge went. Obama says he issued that deadline to keep Congress focused, but missing it opened him to charges of ineffectiveness.
David Axelrod, a senior Obama adviser, has allowed that the push for passage of healthcare by summer might have been too ambitious. “I might rethink that if we were to start over again,” he said Oct. 20 at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
The real test will come by year’s end, when Obama needs to have something to show for all his effort before the midterm election season kicks into high gear.
Obama’s election itself raised expectations, says Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “There was a miracle at the ballot box, and people expect those miracles to continue later,” he says. “But [Obama officials] don’t help themselves by setting deadlines early on that they then don’t meet.”
Obama’s immediate predecessors can all claim some victories in their first nine months in office. George W. Bush cut taxes, passed the No Child Left Behind education reform, and pulled the nation together after 9/11. Bill Clinton passed a major stimulus and deficit-reduction program, was on his way to passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, and presided over a historic Arab-Israeli handshake.
George H.W. Bush’s term, in many ways Ronald Reagan’s “third term,” got credit for his successful stewardship of the end of the cold war. President Reagan launched his “revolution” by enacting the largest tax cuts in history.