With the Senate's passage of a healthcare reform bill on Christmas Eve, it allowed President Obama to check off an item from the list of things he wanted to accomplish during his first year in office. However, the bill also angered some progressive supporters who, with its lack of a government-run public insurance option, say the President compromised and deviated too much from his sweeping campaign pledges. This clash has been recurring all year, between voters, who expected bolder and more drastic action from the former community organizer, and the President, who has taken a more practical, gradual approach to change. Yet from healthcare to jobs to global warming, Obama has stood by his style of incrementally working toward progress, rather than pushing through a more radical agenda. He has especially demonstrated this strategy during the past two months, as he wrapped up the year. Here's a look back at events, and the leadership philosophy behind them, at the close of the whirlwind first year of Obama's presidency.
President Obama List
In a December 1 speech at West Point Military Academy President Obama announced that he would deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan--a move that disappointed anti-war supporters. "I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said, explaining that he reached his conclusion after months of careful deliberation of the threat from al Qaeda. He also explained his opposition to the war in Iraq and announced his plan to remove troops from there by the end of 2011.
Nobel Peace Prize
When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee declared President Obama the 2009 winner, detractors saw it as premature and undeserved given his escalation of war in Afghanistan. Obama accepted the Prize on December 10, expressing his vision to be a moral man in a complex world. "Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct," he said. "That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. ... We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend."
U.N. Climate Change Conference
At the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, environmental activists hoped that President Obama and other world leaders would reach a binding treaty to lower greenhouse gases. But the deal fell short, with only five countries loosely agreeing to regulate their pollution and help poor countries develop clean energy systems. "Hard stuff requires not paralysis," said Obama, who nonetheless called the deal an unprecedented breakthrough, "But going ahead and making the best of the situation that you're in at this point, and then continually trying to improve and make progress from there."
The Senate version of the healthcare reform bill extends coverage to 30 million Americans and forbids insurers from denying patients for preexisting conditions. The bill also has no public insurance option and requires all citizens to buy health insurance--factors that have some critics calling it a payout to the insurance industry. But President Obama praised the bill, saying that health reform has never made it this far. "For the sake of our citizens, our economy and our future," he said, urging passage by the full Congress, "Let's make 2010 the year we finally reform health care in the United States of America."
President Obama pledged to reform education, criticizing former President Bush's No Child Left Behind law for requiring high-stakes testing without adequate funding. But rather than scrap No Child Left Behind, which many urban educators oppose for being too rigid, he tinkered with it by providing money for underperforming schools--with conditions. Under the President's "Race to the Top" program, states must compete for increased federal funds by showing that they've taken steps to improve their education systems.
The Jobs Plan
With 10 percent of Americans out of work, civil rights groups pressed the White House to do more to create jobs. On December 8 President Obama unveiled a plan to use leftover money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), originally for bailing out banks and other financial institutions, toward infrastructure and clean energy. Through critics scoffed at increased funding for the same steps as the Recovery Act, the President said his plan allowed him to "shift funds that would have gone to help the banks on Wall Street to help create jobs on Main Street."
Shutting Down Guantanamo
Human rights groups were encouraged when President Obama ordered the Guantanamo Bay detention center closed by January 2010, and exposed brutal interrogation practices used there. They were disappointed when he stopped short of investigating the Bush-era officials who authorized the techniques. As the Justice Department struggled to relocate all of the detainees, activists were further frustrated when the President admitted that Guantanamo would not close by his deadline. But he remained confident, telling Fox News, "We are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantanamo will be closed next year."
The President and Race
The Congressional Black Caucus mounted a campaign for President Obama to enact targeted policies that specifically address the elevated Black unemployment rate--extra help for extra hurt, they reasoned. The President disagreed, advocating for his more universal strategy. "I think the most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period," he told USA Today, "And that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again."
President Obama's mortgage plan was supposed to help millions of distressed homeowners stay in their homes, by allowing them to modify their loans. But with its voluntary structure, many banks refused to participate in the program. While anti-poverty advocates called for a tougher, mandatory program, President Obama instead met with banking executives in December and urged them to lend more. "America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry," he said after the meeting, "And now that they're back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy."