” While I appreciate Arianna Huffington’s kind words about my book on the 2008 Presidential campaign of Barack Obama, I could not disagree more with the suggestion that somehow the President Obama of 2009 has lost touch with candidate Obama in 2008.
Frustration about the pace of change, even disagreement on select issues, of course is understandable. But stepping back a bit, as those of us in the Obama orbit have learned to do, reveals an administration that already has made a significant down payment on the change so many fought for last year. I remain confident in the president’s unique ability not just to lead us through the many challenges and crises of the moment, but also to accomplish the tough, smart, long-term projects of energy and health care reform — problems that Washington has long ignored but that will secure a more equitable and prosperous future for all Americans.
During the campaign, the president offered three core promises to the American people. First, he promised to wake up every day thinking about how to improve the lives of the middle class, a task made more urgent by the historic economic calamity that greeted him as he took office. Some suggested that all that could or should be done was to perform triage on the financial system and allow economic events to take their normal course. But the president undertook strong action to stabilize the banking system, as well as the auto industry. These were things he had to do — not things he wanted to do — and of course they had little political upside. But President Obama is a leader; he did not run to occupy the Oval Office but to lead from it, and many times that means playing a bad hand as effectively as possible.
The president’s actions to stabilize the banking and auto sectors may well have prevented another Great Depression from visiting this country; certainly these measures avoided additional drastic job losses and foreclosures, of which we have already had far too many.
But while dealing with these crises during his first ten months, the president has kept his sights squarely focused on the middle class. He passed a Recovery Act that saved and created a million jobs — many of these backbone middle-class jobs like teachers, firefighters, and police officers — and made historic investments in green energy and technology jobs. His actions spurred a 73 percent increase in lending to small businesses, allowing them to expand and create new jobs; helped hundreds of thousands of responsible Americans keep their homes; and cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. He’s expanded health care for children, passed equal pay for equal work legislation, and expanded stem cell research. And he is now closer than any president in decades to passing health reform that bans insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, outlaws insurance discrimination based on gender, and caps what patients can be charged out-of-pocket. This effort will be key, because job growth — and the kind of robust economic growth our country needs to create a strong job-producing climate — won’t come without finally getting health care costs under control. Health insurance reform is a key piece of job-growth strategy, as employers of every size can attest.
President Obama’s second core campaign promise was to make government more transparent and accountable, to rebuild a sacred trust that had been seriously eroded. And he has delivered. He closed the revolving door, forbidding anyone who works in his administration from lobbying when they leave their jobs. For the first time in history, names of visitors to the White House will be released, so every American can see which interests and individuals are visiting their government. And the groundbreaking website recovery.gov is allowing Americans to trace every dollar spent and every job created or saved from the recovery act, adding a level of transparency never before seen.
The third core pillar the president offered America was the chance to rebuild and strengthen our relationship with the rest of the world. Doing so would to allow us to solve shared problems and maximize shared opportunities, and to more effectively confront the terrorism and foreign policy challenges faced by the entire world.
He is, of course, delivering on that promise, to a degree even his most hardened detractors would strain to effectively or credibly criticize. The president is winding down the war in Iraq, just as he promised he would during the campaign. And he is working thoughtfully and with great care to determine our next phase in Afghanistan, always keeping the long view in mind. Surely we can all agree this is a refreshing change from the approach to Iraq of six and seven years ago.
Is there much work left to be done? Of course. Is the president satisfied with where we are on jobs? No; the problem weighs on him every day as he works to accelerate job growth and negotiates a cooperative relationship with the private sector, where the bulk of these new jobs must be generated.
The economy is growing again, much sooner than most experts predicted. If growth continues, it should lead to job growth. And the president’s bold leadership has played a significant role in our economy starting to right itself.
But he understands that unless we make much-needed progress on health care and energy, we will not be as strong a country in the decades to come as any of us would like. Our future truly depends on finally getting Washington to start confronting long-term challenges instead of ducking them. This is asking a lot. Washington is often reserved when it needs to be bold, and political when it should be addressing substance and principle. It is too often focused on the next election, not the next generation.
This is one of the president’s great strengths. All he cares about, no matter the barbs and arrows shot his way, is to finally deliver on health insurance and energy reform so that we can ensure our country’s greatness, and provide a solid economic foundation for American workers today and tomorrow.
Arianna Huffington has written much that I agree with. But when it comes to her opinion on the president and his record so far, or her suggestion that there is some great difference between the president and the candidate, I have to register the strongest possible dissent. A year after our historic victory, I have never been more certain that Barack Obama is uniquely suited to lead the country at this unparalleled moment. His values; his ability and desire to think long term; his determination to avoid the easy road of political expedience and to rebuild trust between the American people and their government — these are exactly what American needs right now. As on any journey, there will be twists and turns, ups and downs. But the change so many of us fought for so passionately last year is becoming a reality in front of our eyes, if we focus squarely enough to see it. And when the decisions he is making today finally resolve into a complete picture years down the road, we will find ourselves living in a stronger, fairer, and more prosperous America. And we will cherish the small part all of us played in electing this unique leader, a man befitting this critical moment in our history.