That euphoria is still somewhat in the air, but not with the hope and promise it had in the beginning, and that excitement has certainly diminished among those on the left who really saw in Barack Obama quick and meaningful change.
On the campaign trail, Obama’s watchword was “change,” and to some degree, he has lived up to that word. But his loyal supporters–some of who are among the most disappointed–are concerned that the changes have not come fast or fully enough to satisfy them.
To think that in one year Obama could rectify the damages of the recent past is to be politically naive. First of all, the detritus left behind by the Bush administration alone is going to take years to repair. True, Obama has spent a lot of political capital on bringing about a monumental change in reforming health care, but we may be on the precipice of making that a reality.
Many see several key races as referendums on his administration. While this is but the first phase of the coming midterm elections, which will be far more telling, they are still important in gaining perspective on the extent to which Obama still has some political clout.
Remember, Obama brought more than a half-million new voters to the polls, and as he has moved around the country, particularly in two trips to New Jersey to shore up Jon Corzine’s flagging chances, it’s an opportunity to see if his influence is enough to make a difference.
There is also the congressional race in upstate New York, which is being closely watched by Democrats and Republicans. That there is an election in the 23rd District here can be attributed to Obama, who plucked Rep. John McHugh from his seat to be the Secretary of the Army. Obama, many New Yorkers recall, selected Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State and created a rigmarole from which Gov. Paterson is still trying to recover.
Not until the midterm elections next year will the nation truly get a better idea of Obama’s power and political cachet. More immediate are the wars abroad, and none more pressing and troublesome than the eight-year long turmoil in Afghanistan. Already the pundits are declaring that the conflict in this war-torn country will be Obama’s Vietnam.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has charged Obama with “dithering” and being indecisive on whether to answer a request for more soldiers to Afghanistan. It’s not an easy decision, and most of us recall that Obama promised to listen to all his advisers before making a decision about war measures.
If he fails to respond to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops, he will be castigated by Republicans. To commit more troops will mean hearing further disgust from his constituents, who are increasingly opposed to the war, especially as they follow the daily reports of more deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There have also been calls from the left–and this dissent has for all intents and purposes been muffled–for Obama to be more assertive and to live up to some of those campaign vows on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or closing Guantanamo Bay.
What they and others have to understand is that Obama is a dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist who will do all he can to appease both the left and the right. His centrist resolve has obviously frustrated millions of Americans, but it’s not unusual for a president to move in slow, incremental steps to bring about change.
To expect him to issue a few executive orders–in the tradition of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Truman–would be uncharacteristic of him. Obama will leave such drastic actions to the Supreme Court.
What’s Obama’s midterm evaluation, so to speak? Well, since there is still so much to be done, so many more miles of ground to plow, so many important decisions yet to make, the fair grade is an incomplete, but the promise is still there, even if the euphoria has begun to fade.