Change we can believe in. That was the tagline of the campaign I spent more than six months working for. I gave up a semester at Georgetown, worked 20-hour days and ate junk food for months on end in order to help Barack Obama become president of the United States. In the process, I played a very small role in helping my home state of Indiana go blue for the first time since 1964. More than a year later, with healthcare reform stalled in Congress, a populist uprising taking shape in many parts of the country and the election of a new “change” candidate in the form of a Republican from Massachusetts, it’s appropriate to ask: Was it worth it?
I’ll answer that question in a moment. In the meantime, it’s worth examining Obama’s first year to see if he has accomplished what he said he would almost three years ago.
On foreign policy, most of the president’s supporters will be happy. He has successfully begun to wind down the war in Iraq – as he promised to do as a candidate – and has put more resources into the war in Afghanistan. While some have criticized the president’s decision-making process when it comes to troop levels in Afghanistan, he has distinguished himself from his predecessor in his approach. He was inquisitive, probing and open-minded rather than incurious, rash and instinct-focused.
ore importantly, Obama was able to change the tone of this country’s foreign policy. With his premature Nobel Peace Prize aside, the president has re-engaged countries in the Middle East, sustained dialogue with Russia and improved relationships with our allies in Europe.
Unfortunately, the president has yet to make any real progress in the Israel-Palestine conflict. After personally visiting the area this past month, I can attest to the complexities of the situation there. Recent reports suggest that the president underestimated what it would take to move the parties forward in the region. The fact that the president neglected to even mention the conflict in his State of the Union address isn’t a good sign, either. Progress is necessary in the area, and if Obama wants to be a real leader of change, he’ll have to prove it by helping to affect such progress.
Domestically, work remains to be done. Health care reform has clearly not moved forward as planned. Nonetheless, the bills under consideration continue to have the backing of the American Medical Association, and numerous experts in health care policy across the country. Moreover – although many on the right have attacked them – the bills in both chambers of Congress remain more moderate than the plan put forward by Clinton in the 1990s. Therefore, any declarations of health care reform as dead are unquestionably premature.
Domestic issues in other areas are also largely unresolved. The economy remains in shambles, and – while it is hard to imagine unemployment numbers going anywhere but down – the administration hasn’t focused as much on this issue as it should have. Climate change legislation, while passing in the House, is at a standstill in the Senate.
Considering all that remains unfinished, it would be easy to conclude that Obama’s presidency thus far has been a letdown. No doubt, many of us who gave up jobs or school to work on his campaign had hoped that his administration would have made more progress by this point. Before judging Obama’s inaugural year, however, it is important to fully understand the reality of the federal government, much of which is out of the president’s hands.
Washington is plagued by partisanship and gamesmanship. A recent Senate vote to establish a bipartisan budget commission went down in defeat after two Republicans who co-sponsored the bill voted against it; ostensibly simply to deny the president any type of legislative victory.
As the next generation of young leaders, we must demand more from our elected representatives. I truly believe the president wants to work across the aisle to get things done – as evidenced by his recent trip to the House Republicans’ retreat – but that’s difficult when politicians on both sides are worried more about their re-election chances than developing sensible solutions.
I don’t regret a moment I spent on the campaign. I continue to believe in the president’s agenda, and I’m not ready to write him off as a lost cause. But I also know that he must work harder for bipartisan solutions to the problems we face as a nation if he hopes to accomplish anything substantial. If he can tame the beast that is Congress, the mantra of “change we can believe in” will be much more than just wishful thinking.
John Thornburgh is a senior in the College. He can be reached at thornburghthehoya.com. Worldwise appears every other Tuesday.
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