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Judge Obama by his enemies

By Max J. Castro It has been twelve months since Barack Obama assumed office on that frigid January 2009 in Washington D.C. How shall we judge the president’s first year? There is no shortage of naysayers, from 100 percent of Republicans in Congress to people on the left who find that Obama has done nothing to challenge the iron grip of corporate power in America, has escalated the war in Afghanistan, and has not done enough on issues ranging from immigration to gay rights. I disagree with both camps, although I find more merit in the arguments of the latter. One of the signs that Obama must be doing something right is the character and profile of his detractors. Obama has brought out the various strands of the right-wing lunatic fringe, from the “teabaggers” who hate the fact that Obama believes and acts on the premise that government can do good things, to the “birthers” who claim Obama is an illegitimate president because he allegedly was not born in the United States. Wrapped in a superficially attractive package, Sarah Palin can serve as the symbol of the eruption of idiocy, irrationality, and sheer ignorance that has erupted on the occasion of the election of the first African American to the presidency of the United States. Standing on the same ground with this rabble — on the issues if not always on the themes — is 100 percent of that all-white country club, the Republican members of the United States Congress. Looking through through a perspective neither demonizing nor Utopian, and considering the circumstances under which he assumed power, Obama’s first year has been remarkably successful — even if he hasn’t fulfilled all of our dreams. He has outlawed torture and abuse of U.S. prisoners. He has begun the process of closing the detention center at Guantanamo. He has reached out to the world, replacing the posture of arrogant swagger with a pragmatic approach not devoid of idealism. He has improved the image of the United States in the world and brought optimism to many groups in the United States, African Americans and Latinos not least among them. How many things that would never have been possible under Bush and a Republican Congress have been realized in Obama’s first year? Start with the Liddy Letbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which will help ensure gender equality to women who have endured unequal pay for far too long. Continue with the rejection of the politics of profit and obscurantism to the detriment of reason and science in favor of a public policy based on human values and reason. From the authorization of stem cell research to the liberation of climate science from the quasi-censorship endured under Bush, Obama has brought us a long way. Good-bye and good riddance to sex education based exclusively on abstinence. Then there are the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court; the loosening of restriction on travel and remittances to Cuba; the EPA’s declaration that carbon dioxide affects human health; the relative reduction of immigration raids on workplaces and communities; and the increase in pressure on the Israelis to halt their settlement policy. What’s more, all of this has been accomplished amid two inherited wars and an economic debacle that threatened to plunge the world into a Great Depression. With zero cooperation from the Republicans, Congress passed and the president signed a $787 million economic stimulus package that has prevented unemployment from skyrocketing and has begun to produce growth in the economy. Obama and his economic team prevented the implosion of the financial system, which would have devastated the economy from top to bottom. With all this, the president has not taken his eyes off his top domestic priority, the reform of our dysfunctional and unequal health care system. Indeed, where other presidents have failed to even get Congress to take up the issue, Obama is on the cusp of signing into law a highly imperfect but perfectible health care reform bill which will provide coverage to tens of millions who now lack it. This is, for starters, a pretty good track record, especially if you compare it with Bush or with what a McCain-Palin government would have meant. Yet there is still much work for Obama to accomplish on each one of these issues. The economy needs more stimulus. The financial system requires much more stringent regulation. We need a return to a real progressive tax system. Cuba merits a serious conversation with the ultimate purpose of ending the embargo and normalizing relations. Israel could use a higher dose of tough love. The United States needs to commit itself more formally to curtailing the emission of greenhouse gases. This country needs to show the difference between the disastrous Bush administration reaction to hurricane Katrina and Obama’s response to the Haiti earthquake. The United States should get out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible. And this is just a partial list. Obama has expressed the desire to be a “transformative” president. In 2009, he made a good start toward that goal. But there are many miles to go and many obstacles to overcome. Count on the Republicans to continue their obstructionist ways. Expect the irrational right to whine and wail. Watch for conservative Democrats to desert at critical junctions. In 2008, the American people gave Obama a mandate for change. So far, he has not betrayed his promises even if, in the real world of American politics, he has made concessions and compromises. And, oh, to hear the periodic and predictable railing of Dick Cheney. How sweet the sound!

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