Jan. 20 will be the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s arrival in the White House. Never before has a president raised such high expectations, nor have any of his predecessors divided and polarized this country so much.
It is fair to say that the 11 months that the young president has been at the helm of the world’s most powerful country—a nation with large and serious problems—have left their mark on his face: he looks tired; it’s often said that he does not sleep well; and there are rumors that he does not eat well. It is obvious that he has lost weight and his hair, until recently black, is now full of gray.
No one can say that his job is easy, and worst of all, he has not been able to satisfy or please anyone. The same electorate that could not agree on anything during the campaign now appears united in the disillusion and disenchantment felt by millions of U.S. citizens after Obama’s first year in the presidential chair.
Those on the left, who used to support him so loyally and unconditionally, believe that he ceded too much to Wall Street magnates in his efforts to solve the financial crisis. In addition, they think he made too many concessions to private insurance companies and the powerful pharmaceutical industry in his plan to reform the health care system.
They are also displeased with Obama’s decision to continue increased involvement of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in a war that the majority of citizens consider unwinnable.
On top of that, they are annoyed that the president has not come out in favor of same-sex marriage, nor against the policy that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the army. They also criticize him because he has not yet closed the prison at Guantanamo and has not kept his promise on immigration reform that would move millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. They also think that the new administration has not done enough to slow the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The Republican right wing simply criticizes everything he does. They see in Obama a free-spending liberal who will leave the country in even more debt, while the independents believe that the head of state has done nothing to reconcile conflicting interests and close the breach which creates such political division in this country.
Nowadays, few people seem to remember that Obama inherited a sick country in difficult circumstances. Just look at the economy: one year ago this nation was at the brink of bankruptcy and the beginning of a huge recession. The president acted quickly and decisively, injecting funds into the economy via that famous fiscal stimulus, which despite all arguments that it was unfair and insufficient, was successful in stopping the economic free fall, and re-establishing some economic growth.
Some insist that unemployment is still too high at 10 percent; however, there are experts who assert that if Obama had not acted, the percentage of people out of work would have reached levels not seen since the great depression of the 1920s.
Because of the frustration that many groups feel, Obama’s popularity has dropped, and it has helped little that the president has a calm, peaceful, and apparently patient personality. This trait can give the impression of arrogance or coldness, though those who know him well say that he is a very sensitive person who is particularly affected by the war and the young people who will not return to their families.
In his year as president, Obama spent three months looking serious and completely consumed by reviewing and deciding on a strategy to follow in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, his first 12 months in Washington will be forever linked to his efforts at health care reform, which would provide medical care to the more than 40 million people who now lack coverage. If this succeeds, it may be the greatest social success of his term.
Obama did not deserve the Nobel Peace prize, but he does deserve credit for the multilateral and conciliatory tone of his foreign policy. He has toned down the rhetoric with Iran and reoriented relations not only with Russia and China, but most importantly with the Islamic world. In a few short months he has managed to change the image of the United States around the world, leaving behind the belligerent era of George W. Bush.
The president has been in the oval office one year; he has three more to go — eight more if he is re-elected. It is too early to judge him now. Let us hope that both the left and the right can agree on that.