I find myself mostly agreeing with this commentary from Columbia University researcher, Alice Kessler-Harris, in the current edition of Dissent Magazine:
“I count myself among those disappointed in Barack Obama’s presidency so far. I had not expected miracles, but I had hoped for a more dramatic turnaround in our politics: for an end to the war in Afghanistan; a rapid closing of Guantánamo; and a denunciation of torture, rendition, and the endless pursuit of an elusive and protean terrorism…. I anticipated a more generous health care bill and a restoration of modest regulations on banks and financial investment firms. Obama led us to expect these things of him when, in his mellifluous and powerful voice, he advocated “change you can believe in.”
“Mostly agreeing” because I wouldn’t have placed the “rapid closing of Guantanamo,” nor the “denunciation of torture and rendition” high up on my own priorities for Obama’s presidency. Downgrading the “endless pursuit of an elusive and protean terroism,” yes, that was a high priority for me also.
For me there are other Obama, if not failures, areas of neglect and downright inactivity that have been even more important sources of my own disappointment.
Too often Obama has allowed the Democratic Congress to set the political agenda for his administration. While reforming the country’s health care system may have been important to him the bits and pieces of reforms actually proposed were all, or nearly all the thoroughly unsatisfactory creations of Congress. And it now appears that any future reforms of the money and banking segments of our economy will be no less left to the Congress to fashion and then enact, the president again watching from the sidelines.
Similarly our country’s war strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan are not so much the President’s own creation as that of his military generals. The result being that we’re looking at what seems more and more like (as impossible as I always thought this to be) a repeat of our disastrous Vietnam experience nearly two generations earlier.
But my own greatest disappointment lies in areas of presidential neglect and inactivity. Two in particular.
Our middle classes, those who work and pay income taxes, those who make up this country’s backbone, provide the labor for the country’s industries, as well as for the country’s wars, (just and unjust) are hurting. These people’s salaries have not been rising, but their costs of living of course have been. Furthermore their numbers are diminishing as more and more of them lose their jobs and homes and join the ranks of the unemployed.
For our middle class citizens not to do well and prosper is to bode terribly for the country’s future. Improving the increasingly difficult circumstances with which these people are struggling ought to have received Obama’s full attention from day one of his presidency, more so than reckless foreign wars in the Middle East, more so even than insuring the uninsured (the cost of which would be mostly born by these same middle classes).
The other area of neglect, so far anyway, is immigration policy. Doesn’t the President understand that our country has always been and is still most about, the large numbers of people, good people, hard working people, who come here from all over, and who for most of the country’s history have been welcomed and given the opportunity to work? Doesn’t he know that it’s these millions, among whom was his own father, who have come here and with hard work and encouragement realized the American Dream?
He needs to make sure (this insurance even more important than health insurance) that the people coming to these shores, and, through the work that they do once here, growing this country’s wealth, doesn’t stop.
Open Door immigration policies have always been, if not this country’s greatest source of strength, right up there with the founding principles of our founding fathers, with such things as democratic governance, the free market, the rule of law, the protection of individual rights and the other principles that inform and characterize and make precious our lives together.
Mistakingly I believe, the President has yet to turn his attention to immigration. He should be vitally concerned with easing the path to citizenship, not only for those who want to come here but also for those millions who are already here but without legal status.
Although such an effort might, more than anything else, keep him from being elected to a second term, the President himself said, just today while speaking with Diane Sawyer of ABC News:
“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. I don’t want to look back on my time here and say to myself all I was interested in was nurturing my own popularity.” Would that he do this!