Yesterday was the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s assuming the presidency of the United States.
His promise of change seemed destined to be fulfilled not only in the reality of an African American first family, but also through the overwhelming mandate from the public. Democrats won super-majorities in both houses of Congress, with blue representatives and senators elected from sea to shining sea largely on the President’s coat-tails. This White House was given a degree of political power to which previous ones could only have dreamt. Yet after a full year in office the hopes of liberal America remain unfulfilled.
There is of course truth to the old adage that politicians who campaign in poetry must govern in prose. Promises made before elections can often, in the cold light of day, be simply beyond the political or economic means of a government. The damning indictment of Mr Obama’s performance is not the failure to achieve change, but the President’s refusal to fully pursue the policies on which he was elected.
Tens of millions of Americans still have no or inadequate health coverage, despite it being a key focus of Obama’s victorious campaign. By ordering the White House to take a back seat and allowing Congressional leaders to take the lead, the issue has gone into its second year with widely disparate bills passing the House of Representatives and the Senate. The resulting negotiations will be long and arduous, with the real possibility that whatever compromise the leaders reach may be rejected by their respective houses. Change seems some way off.
Homosexual members of the US armed forces still face being thrown out if their orientation is discovered. These loyal officers and enlisted personnel, who are fighting, bleeding and dying for America in foreign deserts, deserve their commander-in-chief’s active pursuit of the change he believes in and promised. It is not enough for him to never move without having first garnered consensus, he was elected to lead.
In November the US has its midterm elections, thereafter the Republican Party will begin its selection for a presidential candidate and the race for the White House will begin again. As legislators are again plunged into the mire of electioneering, their willingness to pursue controversial issues will inevitably plummet. President Obama may already have seen an end to the most opportune period of his first term. He has achieved little with it.
A president seeking a second term may be asked what he has done to justify the voters granting it. The power of the president is the power to persuade, derived from the unwritten status of he alone as the elected representative of a single constituency of the entire American nation. Maintaining that authority matters; Americans expect their president to speak as the nation’s leader. Liberals will hope that President Obama finds his voice soon, but yesterday’s loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat, held for the Democrats since 1953 by John and Ted Kennedy, suggest liberal America grows impatient.
By Mark McGeever