Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Obama at One Year

Count me as a Koolaid drinking supporter of Barack Obama. Whatever I believe about his position on any given issue - and I disagree on some, I fundamentally trust him. I trust his motives, I trust his intelligence and I trust his judgment...I think. Yes, even I am getting a bit wobbly right now. Like everyone else, I was stunned by the slow motion train wreck in Massachusetts. And I'm deeply disappointed with how much it seems to have rattled the Democrats in Congress. If the Republicans were in the same position, they would have rammed the Senate bill through the House by now, if only to make the point that the voters in one state can not scare them. Why the hesitation among the Democrats? They've already voted for the bill in one form or another. How do they think they will diminish their political risk by refusing to vote for essentially the same bill again and at least get credit for the accomplishment? I just don't get it.

Which brings me back to Obama. Why doesn't he just demand the House pass the Senate bill and fix it in the reconciliation process? Since I still trust his motives, intelligence and judgment, I can only assume he knows what he's doing and will bring this to a good place. But my faith is weakening.

It helped me to read an evaluation of Obama by Chris Patten in the European Voice. He's the former governor general of Hong Kong before it was handed back to the Chinese and is an enlightened political observer. Yes, he's European, so his opinion is disregarded as socialist and elitist by red-blooded Americans. But I've always respected his insights. Here's what he said about Obama:
Pragmatic and highly intelligent, sooner or later every issue receives the full attention of his forensic curiosity. Recalling Hillary Clinton's famous Democratic primary television advertisement, Obama, it turns out, is exactly the sort of president that most of us would want to have in the post for that 3am phone call about an international crisis. He would not be afraid to act, but he would be prepared to think first.
And that's what I admire most about Obama. He thinks things through and doesn't claim to have a divinely inspired gut, like his predecessor. Like Patten, I feel like he's been pushed around a bit in his first year in office, by Benjamin Netanyahu, by the Chinese, by the Republicans in Congress. But my hope is that, like John Kennedy being pushed around by the generals on the Bay of Pigs and Khrushchev in Vienna, the experience will toughen him up for when he confronts his own version of the Cuban Missle Crisis (let's hope with somewhat lesser stakes).

Which leads to Patten's larger point in his piece. He identifies to the greatest crisis facing humanity right now and it's not global warming. Rather it's nuclear proliferation.
The nuclear issue is one of the biggest items on the Obama agenda. How it is handled will help to define his presidency....These are going to be some of the major questions for Obama over the next year and more. If he gets them right, he can forget about his short-term critics. Fortunately, he is smart enough to know this.
Coincidentally, there was an NPR story this morning about a new documentary on nuclear proliferation in which Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, cold warriors all, advance their own grave warnings about this threat. Look for that issue to take center stage in the months ahead. It will be interesting to see how that one gets politicized in the efforts by his opponents to "break" Obama.

In the meantime, we toil in the weeds of domestic legislation. I do believe Obama's got to chalk up some wins on the smaller issues, like healthcare and the economy, in order to give him the political heft to deal with the fate of humanity, a challenge with which Republicans seemed blithely indifferent.

We are at a familiar place. Obama under siege with a big speech coming up. He's nailed it every time before. I'll be watching his State of the Union tonight with my "hope" only slightly diminished.

1 comment:

Laurel said...

The Economist - Jan 16 -22nd issue also has some good articles.

Question - Why are fingers being pointed at the Republicians and the President when the disfunctional body is the senate. For 8 months the senate has had a super majority (yes counting Liberman - would love to see him forced to filibuster), all major legislation ahould have been completed. The democrats appear to be undisciplined and afraid of their own shadows.