Pols1 Online. Summer 2010
"An Evaluation of President Obama's First Year and a Half as POTUS"
Barrack Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20th, 2009. He is the first African American to take office and with his presidency he promised to make changes to America that would liberate the American people from crisis into a bright new beginning. In his Inauguration speech, he claimed to mend the financial crisis by stimulating jobs and laying a “new foundation for growth” (Naughton, “Inauguration speech”). He promised to rebuild the Nation’s foundations such as roads, bridges, electric grids, and digital lines, to revive the prosperity and importance of science, to increase the care and lower the cost of health care, to mend the threat of global warming, to enact peace with Afghanistan, to withdraw from Iraq, and to transform the educational system to meet the conditions of a new era (Naughton, “Inauguration speech”). Throughout his first year as president Obama has enacted many policies and regulations such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and Health Care Bill. However, has Obama stayed true to his original promises stated throughout his campaigns, in his Inauguration speech, as well as his first State of Union speech. Has Obamba’s first year been a success or a failure? This essay will explore the history of Obama’s ascend to presidency, his success and failures, and an overall evaluation of Obama’s first year in office.
The Rise of Barrack Obama
Obama was born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu Hawaii to parents Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. His parents later separated and divorced when he was only two years of age. His father left his family to pursue “P.h.D. studies at Harvard and returned to his home country, Kenya, in 1965” (“Barack Obama Biography”). His mother remarried in 1966 to Lolo Soetoro from Indonesia and later the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. However, Indonesia proved to be unsettling for young Obama and his mother “sent him back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents;” his mother later joined him with his sister (“Barack Obama Biography”). Even as a child Obama had dreams of one day ruling the white house. He wrote essays in kindergarten and in third grade discussing his childhood desire to one day become President of the United States (James, “This Clinton Attack”). He was enrolled at the prestigious Puhahou Academy where his excelled in basketball and academics. Obama struggled with the reality of racism and absence of his father throughout high school, but did not allow these confrontations to affect his academics. His father died when he was 22 from a car accident and Obama expressed his emotions toward his father’s passing by stating, “At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me” (“Barack Obama Biography”).
Obama graduated and left for Occidental college for two years and then transferred to Columbia University in New York. He graduated in 1983 a degree in political science and worked as a business sector for two years (“Barack Obama Biography”). Obama moved to Chicago in 1985 where he worked as “community organizer for low-income residents” and in 1988 attended Harvard Law School, where he met his future wife Michelle Robinson (“Barack Obama Biography”). He graduated from Harvard in 1991 and returned to Chicago where he became a civil rights lawyer for the Miner, Barnhill and Galland firm, and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Obama and Michelle were married on October 3, 1992 and had two daughters: Malia and Sasha (“Barack Obama Biography”). He published his autobiography in 1995 and in 2006 narrated the audio book Dreams and received honors for both works including a “Grammy award for Best Spoken Word Album” (“Barack Obama Biography”).
Obama’s credentials led him to run for Illinois State Senate and he won the election as a Democrat representative in 1996 (“Barack Obama Biography”). As Senator he aided in “drafting legislation on ethics [expanding] health care services...early childhood education programs for the poor...state earned-income tax credit for the poor” (“Barack Obama Biography”). With his success as Senator he became chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee and discovered that prisoners were being found innocent on death row. This realization lead him to enforce interrogations to be video taped in all capital cases (“Barack Obama Biography”). Obama tried to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, but did not get elected. In 2002, he created a campaign committee to help him raise money to run for U.S. Senator in 2004 (“Barack Obama Biography”). Obama won the race against Alan Keyes and became the 3rd African American U.S. Senator since the Reconstruction era. During his term as U.S. Senator he enacted a bill aimed at terminating “weapons of mass destruction in Eastern Europe and Russia...created a website to [track] all federal spending...and spoke at for victims of Hurrican Katrina...pushed for alternative energy development...championed improved veterans’ benefits” (“Barack Obama Biography”). He also published his second book in October 2006, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, which proved as his first “talking point” for his presidential campaign (“Barack Obama Biography”). The novel was the top seller of New York Times and Amazon.com and shortly after in February 2007 Obama declared that he was running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. After a tight battle between Hilary Clinton and Obama he became the Democratic party nominee for the presidency. Obama defeated John McCain on November 4th, 2008 with a 52.9% to 45.7% (“Barack Obama Biography”). On January 20, 2010 he officially fulfilled his childhood dream and became President of the United States, making his home to the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Since Obama’s inauguration as President he has enacted many successful domestic and economic policies during his first year in office. In his Inauguration speech his domestic plans for the country included rebuilding the nation’s architecture, installing environmental protection, improving health care coverage, increasing scientific research, and progressing the educational systems. The first policy that Obama addressed on January 21 was his declaration on a new “era of openness” between the people and the government. Obama proclaimed that, “For a long time now there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed..That era is now over” (Hines, “President Obama Ushers in New Era”). This proclamation extends a strong executive relationship with the people and provides citizens with what Obama refers to as the “People’s House.” Obama affirms that, “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency” (Hines, “President Obama Ushers in New Era”). This policy strengthens his domestic relationship with citizens because people will not be kept ill-informed of where their taxes are going or regulations made by the government.
Obama’s first formal Bill was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which ended a 2007 Supreme Court decision that had refused a female worker to sue a company after realizing that after 19 years she had been paid less than male employees at Goodyear tyre factory. The bill allows workers “greater latitude to sue their employers for unequal pay” (Goldenberg, “Obama Signs in his First Law”). Before the bill, workers were only given six months to file a lawsuit. The bill issues workers to be paid fairly regardless of “gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability” (Goldenberg, “Obama Signs in his First Law”). Obama’s first bill aided in preserving the civil rights of American citizens.
Obama’s second major domestic change was a new executive order to end the August 2001 ban on Stem Cell research by President Bush. Obama claims that, “As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research-and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly” (Nasaw, “US Scientists Relieved”). Scientist can now openly discuss and experiment with the possibilities of stem cell research. They will no longer be restricted from receiving equipment, data, or funds from the government. As a result of this approval Congress passed a “fiscal stimulus bill...that includes a $8.2 bn for the National Institutes of Health research centers” (Nasaw, “US Scientists Relieved”). The advancement in stem cell experimentation could aid in finding a cure for diseases such as, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Obama is aiding the progression of science and “[restoring] science to its rightful place,” a commitment he affirmed in his Inauguration speech (“Obama’s Inaugural Speech”).
The President’s third significant domestic transformation was initiating The Health Care Bill passed by the House of Representatives on November 9, 2009 and later by the Senate December 24, 2009. The bill passed by the House of Representatives would increase health insurance to 96% of Americans and would “involve a $1.05tn investment over the next decade” (Pilkington, “Obama’s Health Insurance”). As a result 36 million Americans would be given health coverage only leaving 18 million without health insurance by 2019. Employers would be commanded to offer insurance to their workers or face governmental punishments (Pilkington, “Obama’s Health Insurance”). However, the bill was not offer coverage for abortions. The House of Senate passed a similar Health Care Bill that enacted a $871bn fund, 30 million Americans would receive coverage, “insurers will be forbidden from denying coverage based on patients’ pre-existing conditions,” American’s will be required to have health insurance, and those who are not able to obtain coverage through their employers will be granted with “government-regulated health insurance exchange and may receive subsidies” (Nasaw, “U.S. Senate Passes”). The senate also proposed that the Bill does not mean a “government-run health insurance progamme” but most likely a “government-run insurance programme for the poor” will be developed (Nasaw, “U.S. Senate Passes”). This Health Care Bill extends coverage to 30 million American’s helping families and individuals afford treatments and medical care that they before could not obtain. This policy is yet another action Obama promised in his Inauguration speech.
Obama has contributed to aiding the economy by stimulating jobs through his American Recovery Act and Reinvestment Act. In his State of Union address Obama highlighted on his plan to increase the job market. This bill plans to “protect workers from losing health-care coverage; modernize public schools, roads and sewer systems; lower energy costs and taxes; and make college more affordable” (Rucker, “Obama Details Recovery Plan”). The bill aims at providing 3.6 million jobs to workers in the United States. The first year of the Recovery Act, according to economic research of the IHS Global Insight, has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs (Leonhardt, “Judging Stimulus”). These economists concluded that the bill will ultimately produce 2.5 million jobs (Leonhardt, “Judging Stimulus”). The Recovery Act is directed at giving aid to states and cities in order for the government to enact policies that can present aid to various programs such as infrastructure, education, employment, and health care. Obama promised to increase jobs and has committed to increasing the job market, which will enable American’s to work and spend money more freely, thus increasing GDP.
Presidential Faux Pas
During his first Presidential year, Obama enacted some unsuccessful policies through international relations and economic advances. Obama has been a strong activist against the war and claimed in his Inauguration speech that he would begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan” (“Obama’s Inaugural Speech”). However, he deported 17,000 troops to Afghanistan February 17 and 13,000 more troops October 12. In the eyes of the American people this decree is failing to amend peace and return soldiers home. The US spokesman in Iraq claims that by August all combat troops would be removed from Iraq leaving 50,000 to protect the safety of the Iraqis (Ewen, “Obama Quietly Deploying 13,000”). Obama does not appear to be obeying this claim and met with Iraq’s President Nouri al-Maliki to discuss the removal of US troops. Obama promised that by the end of 2011 all troops will be fully withdrawn from Iraq (“Obama Pledges”). However, the troops may be leaving Iraq, but will then be deported to Afghanistan. “The White House and the Pentagon both announced earlier this year that the number of US troops in Afghanistan was to be raised by 21,000, bringing the total at present to 62,000, with the aim of 68,000 by the end of the year” (Ewen, “Obama Quietly Deploying”). On December 12, 2009 Obama planed to send 30,000 more troops in the next seven to eight months. He also claims to start pulling out troops July 2010, but “offered no date of completion” and stated that the “withdrawal of all combat troops would depend on how the war is going at the time” (Ewen, “Barack Obama Sets Out”). But that number may even rise because US commander General Stanley McChrystal is requesting 40,000 troops in order to protect the country from being over taken by the Taliban. It appears that Obama is rather moving the Iraqi war to Afghanistan rather then aiming towards peaceful negotiations that include brining our soldiers home. Obama's plans for Iraq and Afghanistan do not appear to be holding true to his original proposals in his campaigns or aiding America’s relations with the
Despite Obama’s success in stimulating jobs through his Recovery Act the policy has unfortunately done little to change the unemployment rate even with the increase in jobs or decrease our budget deficit. The unemployment rate remains at a high of 10%, which means that even though American’s are given the opportunity of more jobs, companies are still letting go employees. Companies are not able to hold onto their workers because of the lack in productivity and revenue. Stockmarkets are concerned that the governmental programs in the stimulus such as aiding infrastructure, education, and the environment are not going to benefit the “unemployed and poor” (Ewen, “Obama Signs $787 Bill”). The government is generating an incredible amount of spending that is driving up taxes and possibly creating our economy to slump further into debt. According to Republican leader of the House of Representative John Boehner the economy is “[spending] a whopping $275,000 in taxpayer dollars for every new job it aims to create, saddling each and every household with $6,700 in additional debt” (Rucker, “Obama Details Recovery Plan”). Only 33% of the money went towards taxes and about “$89bn was spent on infrastructure, $81bn went towards improved unemployment benefits, $14 bn for healthcare, $87 bn towards stopping cuts in state funds to schools, and $86 bn for green energy plans” (Ewen, “Obama Signs $787 Bill”). The CEA estimates that GDP did increase between 1.5% and 3%, but this does not take into account the great debt our country is facing (“Recovery Act Results Reported”). Senator Franken’s Floor Statement calls attention to the nations serious debt crisis. He addresses President Obama personally:
“M. President, I rise today to discuss an incredibly important subject, our nation’s budget deficits. The deficit for Fiscal Year 2009 was about 1.4 trillion dollars. The total debt is now just under 13.2 trillion dollars.These numbers are staggering-and represent a tremendous threat to our nation.”
The Recovery Act has caused our nation to sink lower into debt, which will in the long run continue to push us into a depression. Senator Franken leaves his letter to Obama with a hint of caution and understanding. He states, “...unemployment benefits, infrastructure, research-they all cost money, they all require spending. And some of my colleagues seem to think that long-term deficit reduction and short-term spending are somehow incompatible. Take for example, the Recovery Act. Yes, it added to our short term deficit. Perhaps. But imagine where our economy would be now if we hadn’t enacted it” (“ Sen. Franken’s Floor”). The Recovery Act may have aided our country in the short run but is now plummeting America further into debt than advancement.
Overall, Obama’s first year as President proved to be incredibly successful and promising. He committed himself to fulfilling the majority of promises that he laid out in his campaigns and Inauguration Speech. Obama enacted a sum of domestic policies which protected citizen Civil Rights and liberties such as: the “Openness” policy, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, outlawing certain CIA torture practices, extending health care benefits to homosexual partners, and “[repeated] his promise to allow open gays in the military” (“Timeline of Barack Obama’s”). The President issued many policies to domestically support American citizens’ financial and economic concerns such as the Health Care Reform Bill and Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He stayed true to funding scientific, educational, environmental, and infrastructure reforms. He restricted funding for stem cell research, renovated schools and increased college affordability for 7 million students by funding Pell Grants, rebuilt highways and bridges, and initiated policies that aimed towards greener technology. However, though the programs had great intentions they did not take into account the nation’s overall budget. Especially environmental programs, which was a $86 bn program compared to the $14 bn for health care reform.
Despite Obama’s investment in the war in Afghanistan and drawn-out removal of troops in Iraq, he stayed true to bridging foreign relations and decreasing nuclear threat. He presented “TV interviews, to the al-Arabiya network” to improve relations, “[spoke] to the Turkish parliament” stating that the US is not fighting against Islam, toured the Middle East “aimed at reviving peace negotiations,” called “on North Korea to halt its quest for nuclear weapon,” met with Dmitry Medvedev President of Russia to cut their “nuclear arsenals by up to a third,” held “face-to-face talks with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, met with UN to discuss global dilemmas, had American and Iranian diplomats meet to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme, endorsed Hamid Karzai as the new Afghanistan president, toured around Asia for closer relations, and wrote to Kim Jong-II of North Korea to “return to nuclear proliferation talks” (“Timeline of Barack Obama’s”).
Obama also held great policy vision, related to the American people, and presented authentic moral example. He interviewed for hit television shows, such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the David Letterman show. Before Obama the president had never been a guest on these shows (“Timeline of Barack Obama’s”). Obama organized a variety of tv broadcasts, conferences, interviews, campaigns, fundraisers, and visits to various states. He had more interviews in his first year than any other president before him totaling a number of 158. Ninety out of the total were television and the rest were newspaper and magazine (Knoller, “Obama’s First Year”). Obama held 42 news conferences and five were solo compared to Bush who only did 21 and only four were solo. Obama traveled 46 “out-of-town trips to 58 cities and town in 30 states” compared to Bush who made 39 and Clinton who visited 22 states in their first years. Obama held 28 fundraisers, put together seven campaign rallies, and visited Camp David 11 times in a 27 day span (Knoller, “Obama’s First Year”). Obama actively communicated to American citizens what the government was implementing, like he promised in his “Openness” policy.
President Obama governed a respectable first year as President of the United States of America. He stayed true to his original promises and publicly communicated to America his process towards reformation. Obama implemented policies that proved successful and some that proved unsuccessful. Overall, he went above the bar that Presidents should meet their first year in office and truly laid down a new foundation of growth and change for the United States.
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