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Obama keeps his ‘Promise’

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The plethora of recent books about Barack Obama serves to highlight
the political and cultural significance of the man. His first twelve
months would have been adjudged wildly successful were we living in
ordinary times; we are not. Instead, we live in an era where the
capitalist system very nearly collapsed, the media is even more
pervasive than ever and the political, in the guise of the
grassroots/astro-turf GOP ‘Tea Party’ movement, has become
increasingly personal. Joanathan Alter’s ‘The Promise’ reviews Obama’s
first year in Office; Fans of Barack, and he still has millions, will
love it. It is unashamedly partisan in places, bemoaning the scorched
earth tactics adopted by the Republicans. It is never less than an
excellent reader in all things Obamic.

Alter cuts to the quick of Obama’s strengths. In a key passage, he
compares his subject’s temperament with that of previous Presidents.
Obama comes out as the Zen Master. His ability to always see the
bigger picture has kept him cool while fighting two wars, launching
the gigantic and awesome (in the original sense of the word) Recovery
Act, facing a constant full frontal assault from the Republicans,
fending off demented attacks on his citizenship, being variously
compared to Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and being labelled a Muslim (in the
words of Seinfeld, ‘not that there’s anything wrong with that’). He
has taken a hit in the polls but then again he is a mid-term President caught in
the worst recession for 80 years. For this man, what doesn’t kill him
really does seem to make him stronger.

The converse of these undoubted qualities is a perceived haughtiness
and aloofness and this has been a stick for Obama’s enemies to beat
him with. He doesn’t do raging or tantrums or humiliating staff; he
considers and thinks, plans and strategizes. Alter notes that the
President has been called Spock-like and impossible to read. It is no
coincidence that Obama is a keen and effective poker player. He
doesn’t emote or hide his learning; his friends and allies would say
he wears his intellect lightly and doesn’t care about being seen as
the smartest guy in the room. His opponents see his intelligence as
typical of the liberal elite – a core of arrogance underlying a thin
veneer of equanimity.

His achievements, when weighed against his failures, make Obama’s
first year a highly successful one. His persistence in championing
Health Care reform alone will guarentee him a major chapter in US political history.
Despite the outrageous flak, from Right and Left, this was
delivered. Nancy Pelosi described it as ‘the great
unfinished business of our society’ and, under Obama’s leadership, it
came to pass.  Wall Street Reform has been tough and practical. He
was initially low-balled by the politics of the Shell disaster and the
manufactured mosque/Ground Zero controversy isn’t helping him
either. But the it is arguably the Recovery Act that will
bequeath Obama a greater legacy. Alter observes that if the Act had
been split into five pieces, the achievement would have seemed even
more historic. These are, he declaims: ‘the biggest tax cuts for the
middle class since Reagan, the biggest infrastructure bill since the
Interstate Highway Act in the 1950s, the biggest education bill since
Lyndon Johnson’s first federal aid to education, the biggest
scientific and medical research investment in forty years and the
biggest clean energy bill ever’.

Axelrod, Plouffe et al will be advising Obama to stay the course. He
wants to achieve so much and his breadth of vision is so ambitious,
that many have questioned whether he will seek to force through as many
victories in one term as most of his predecessors did in two. The
Democrats may suffer significant losses in the mid-term elections but
the US economy will pick up for 2012. Obama is still the man to bet on
two years from now. Alter believes the President has already made
history. The best may be yet to come.

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