When Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008 I was elated. I thought his presidency would usher in an era of positive change our nation has not seen since the New Deal in the 1930s or the Great Society in the 1960s. For a while I thought I was wrong as it seemed Obama was failing to achieve anything of note. Now I can see that I was right to be excited.
Since taking office just 18 months ago President Obama and his allies in Congress have piled up a list of monumental achievements. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) not only prevented the economic recession from sliding into another Great Depression, it also poured money into our crumbling infrastructure and renewable energy and included the largest middle class tax cut in the history of the United States. ARRA even created more than 100 jobs at Johns Hopkins.
Obama and his allies reformed the federal student loan program by ending unnecessary subsidies to banks so that student loan money goes directly to students. He signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act making it easier for women to sue over pay discrimination. Obama singed that Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded hate-crime protection to gay Americans. Obama restored federal funding to embryonic stem cell research. He just signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which while imperfect will prevent some of the worst abuses on Wall Street and creates an important Consumer Protection Agency.
Most importantly President Obama pushed through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the most important piece of social justice legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Health care reform will end the disgusting discrimination against Americans practiced by health insurance companies, it will reduce the deficit by well over $1 trillion in the next two decades, and it will expand coverage to more than 30 million Americans, and in so doing save thousands of lives every year.
There is no question that Obama at times has been overly willing to compromise progressive principles in exchange for votes. I was outraged when the Public Option was abandoned. The Stimulus should have been far larger. In addition, Obama has been too cautious about aggressively injecting himself into important debates. If he had been more proactive from the beginning health care reform might not have taken so long to get through Congress. Even worse, his failure to confront the crisis of global warming head on means that there will be no climate bill until at least after the midterm elections.
Yet despite his failures, on balance, Obama’s achievements in just his first year and half in office should put him right up there on the list of greatest presidents with Lyndon Johnson and Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. (As much as Obama might wish otherwise, Lincoln will always be in a league of his own. God willing, this nation will never have another crisis as severe as the Civil War or another injustice as great as slavery for a President to deal with.) Liberals should continue to hold Obama accountable for his mistakes and failures. They should continue to pressure him to keep his promises concerning global warming, the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, immigration reform, and improvements to the health care bill such as the addition of the Public Option. Yet liberals should stop slamming Obama a s failure and a disappointment (I consider myself guilty of this offense). We should be proud of our president’s achievements. He really has brought change.
—Peter Sicher, Magazine Editor