Thoughts on Barack Obama

By Tom Poulos

While I admit that my connection to the real world has been stymied in the past week or so-mostly due to my preoccupation with orientation and with reimmersing myself in Macalester life and-I?can’t help but say a bit about the attitudes that have been floating around regarding President Obama’s political agenda. While I recognize that Obama’s approval ratings have managed to remain high in comparison to past presidents (not to mention that he came in with very high approval ratings), many people have recently become disillusioned within. These disappointed citizens tend to fall into one of two categories: those who opposed Obama and his policies from the beginning or those who supported him throughout the campaign season and have only recently become disappoibted in him, claiming that he is failing to implement the sweeping changes he promised.

I have little to say to those who opposed Obama from the beginning. It’s rare that a president is able to win over those who opposed him/her (hopefully her, one day) from the beginning, unless of course the president radically changes his views some time during the term.

As for those who have become disillusioned with Obama, I want to say one hackneyed and overused statement: keep the hope alive. I don’t want to simply rehash the four-letter word that defined the Obama campaign, but I think it captures the point.

Yes, I concede Obama hasn’t yet done all that he’s promised. And yes, he’s downright changed his position on many of the issues that defined his Campaign for Change. For example, he promised that he would work to reverse the 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal ban against same-sex marriage that passed under President Bill Clinton. However, reversal of this discriminatory piece of legislation seems to have mysteriously disappeared from Obama’s legislation. Eliminating DOMA continues to be the most important milestone in the fight for marriage equality. Even if all 50 states were to pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage, approximately 1100 federal benefits would still be denied to same-sex couples, including granting “next-of-kin” status to couples for hospital visits. Besides DOMA, many are skeptical about Obama’s promise to end the War in Iraq. While soldiers have been pulled out of major cities in Iraq, more soldiers are being deployed to Afghanistan. Whether Obama’s justification for the troop increase (placing American troops where they can most effectively combat terrorism) is sound or not remains questionable to me, but what I do know is that Obama voiced a clear opposition to war as a solution, something he should stick to.

However, the list of Obama’s accomplishments in his short time as president far outweighs his failures or reversals. So far, President Obama has managed to sign an executive order for the closure of Guantanamo Bay; reversed restrictions on stem cell research; signed an executive order reversing the ban that prohibits funding to international family groups that provide abortions; signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that reduces discrimination based on gender, age, religion, or race; signed a Presidential Memorandum extending federal benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers and announced support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009; created a foreclosure prevention fund for homeowners; established a credit card “bill of rights;” expanded loan programs for small businesses; expanded eligibility for State Children’s Health Insurance Fund; expanded funding to train primary care providers and public health practitioners; granted a reprieve to Liberian immigrants facing imminent expulsion; gave a speech in Cairo engaging the Muslim and Arab world; ordered the release of nearly a quarter of a million pages of records from the Reagan White House that were kept from the public during a lengthy review by President George W. Bush; pushed for enactment of Matthew Shepard Act as a hate crime law to include sexual orientation and other factors; funded a major expansion of AmeriCorps; banned lobbyist gifts to executive employees; enacted tax credit for consumers for plug-in hybrid car; provided grants to encourage energy-efficient building codes; extended unemployment insurance benefits; created the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers to help auto industry workers transition to new manufacturing opportunities, including jobs in alternative energy; stopped raids on medical marijuana dispensers; nominated the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court; appointed more than 60 openly LGBT persons to positions in the executive branch; issued Presidential Proclamation for Pride, and proclaimed June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month; and signed a mercury reduction pact with 140 other nations. Okay, so that list went on way longer than it probably should have, but that’s the point I want to get across. Obama has enacted change, both on large and small scales. Rest assured that the changes will keep coming throughout his time as president.

In conclusion, for those disappointed with our president, it’s important to keep in mind that Obama has promised unprecedented changes to our country’s political and economic institutions. The most pertinent of these sweeping changes is the reform of our healthcare system, the probability of which seems a little bleak right now. However, it’s unlikely that healthcare reform will not happen. Democratic party in-fighting, combined with passionate yet madly unreasonable opposition from conservative factions, have made passage of reform difficult. But are we really surprised? Passing reform on this large of a scale is a huge deal, and no one should be surprised at the contention and timeliness surrounding this issue. Obama remains committed to having a public option included in the new health care legislation; his willingness to compromise is simply an indication of one of the character traits that makes him stand apart from past presidents and politicians in general. In other words, we should be patient. Obama has a long list of chores that are each going to take a lot of time to implement. Once they are, however, the changes he (with the help of Congress and the American public) makes will better not only our country for years to come, but the entire global community.

Tom Poulos can be reached at [email protected]