Judging Obama’s first year

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By Rick Howell

With 2009 nearly behind us it’s appropriate to critically assess the first year of Barack Obama’s historic presidency.

    It didn’t take long for the promise of his inauguration to give way to the reality of the crushing problems we all knew he’d face. The financial bailouts - controversial and expensive - had actually begun under the previous administration because, once again, it became necessary to save capitalism from itself.

    When companies are called “too big to fail,” shouldn’t we wonder why we allow that to happen in the first place? But I digress already…the bailouts were followed by an economic stimulus package that can only be said to have produced mixed results.

    We are not out of the recession, and the level of unemployment, currently at 10 percent, is absolutely unacceptable and President Obama has said so.

    But if the stimulus package didn’t do anything else, it saved many teacher, firefighter and police jobs around the country, providing funds that prevented expected layoffs. Just ask the Republican governor of California about that.

    But not even the most enthusiastic supporter of the president (and that includes yours truly) could honestly say that Obama has solved this economic crisis. He’s made some starts; he’s executed specific policies. But he still faces a daunting task on the economy.

As far as health care, his most important domestic concern after the economy, the final verdict is not in. But this president - unlike any Republican president before him - deserves enormous moral credit (yes, I said moral) for trying to extend health care coverage to the many millions who don’t have it.

    Those who have opposed him have behaved horribly, and have made it clear that all they believe in is corporate control of everything. They and their insurance company cronies are likely to see health care reform signed into law next year.

    In recent months, Obama’s preoccupations have been the announcement of a new policy in Afghanistan and the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded. Much has been said about the irony of a wartime president winning a peace prize. He addressed that and more during a remarkable speech in Oslo, Norway.

    Force, he said, is sometimes necessary to ward off the enemies of peace. He cited the one reliable example that everyone employs when they make that argument: World War II. He’s right, but Afghanistan - where he will now send an additional 30,000 troops - may not be the best place to test that belief.

    War is occasionally necessary. But it was not necessary for us in Vietnam or in Iraq. Many worry that Obama may be heading down a similar road. But I think he’ll get us out of Afghanistan - no matter what - in 2011. He knows too much about history and politics to suffer the fate of either Lyndon Johnson or George W. Bush.

    As for the Nobel prize, well, let’s face it. He can thank Bush for that. Europe was rightfully horrified by the swaggering militarism of the unimaginative little Texan. Obama was awarded simply for not being Bush, and for what he might yet achieve based on what we know to be his philosophy. Makes sense to me.

    So, after nearly a year, what do we have? We have a president who is deeply intelligent, habitually thoughtful, moderate to liberal in all his policies and political instincts, but never radical or knee-jerk.

    We have what most of us voted for: A change and a new direction from the policies and obsessions of the previous crowd in the White House. This president is only getting started; the best is just ahead.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.