Obama has had a rough few months. The health care debate went off track thanks to death panels and accusations of socialism, his general in Afghanistan raised a ruckus by publicly calling for an extra 40,000 troops and a few weeks back he had the misfortune of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. This week, Gay Rights! It never ends and such is the job of being President of United States of America.
Obama ran on a platform of change and while there is no harm in holding him to the promises he made, it seems to me that current chorus of criticism (taking off after the Saturday Night Live skit mocking his achievements, or lack thereof) is a bit unfair and not that realistic. The president, after all, is elected for a term of 4 years ... not 9 months! The short attention span of Americans is serving no one in these political debates.
Thinking back to the election this past November I can remember a feeling of, well, "Hope" in the country that had been missing for some time. It felt like Americans were telling the rest of the world that we were ready to take a huge step back into the global community that needed US leadership, and we were going to do it with our best foot forward. We had, after all, elected our first minority president, something unthinkable in most countries around the world. This extraordinary event brought the world together in a way that hadn't existed since the direct aftermath of 9/11. This two week period after the election was the time in which the board for the Nobel Peace Prize made the decision to ultimately elect Obama for the award. Why not? With a global economic crisis in full swing the world needed a jolt and what better than having the same America who voted George W. Bush not once, but twice, into office make a clear statement that enough was enough. America needed to change, and it voted for change in a big way.
Since the election, Obama has set in motion many policies that have changed the trajectory of US foreign and domestic policy. He passed a plan to stave off an economic landslide, put additional troops into Afghanistan, put health care reform in motion, announced that he would close Gitmo and stopped torture as a policy. None of these should come as a surprise to anyone as Obama had promised to address these issues in the campaign and has worked to make good on them, yet it still is not enough for those who seem to forget the magnitude of the economic crisis we were in when he was elected and are thereby unable to grasp the scope of each and every one of these decisions. For the millions of Americans with television ADHD, it makes sense that we as a nation would expect these issues to be resolved if not in an hour then at least 6 months! But therein lies the heart of the issue: most people in their personal lives don't make huge decisions overnight and have them finished in a day! Quitting smoking, vowing to get in shape, sticking to a budget are things that take time to adjust to and see results. The President and the Nation are no different.
The economic stimulus, health care, and the war in Afghanistan are all issues of such massive scope that previous presidents would have needed to focus on just one or two of them in a full term in office. These days that option is a luxury. This week gay rights activists are up in arms about Obama's silence on the policy of "don't ask, don't tell." Really? While I think this policy is absurd, and that in an all volunteer army we should be thankful for each and every person who pursues the armed services as a career regardless of gender, race, sexuality or anything else for that matter, I think most of us would agree that this is not an issue that is quite as urgent as the ones he has tackled. I think we can all rest assured that it is still on the to do list. George Bush educated the nation to a real truth in U.S. politics when he announced he was going to spend some of his "political capital" he felt he earned after the 2004 re-election. Presidents have only so much political capital and they had best use it wisely. This is a plain fact in politics. Obama has made an investment in these issues, any one of which could define his presidency. He must now follow them through to the end if for no other reason than to claim MORE of that coveted capital. Sure, I can see issues such as Business Regulations and Climate Change cropping up in the near future (and rightfully so), but first things first. These fights are already on the table and they must be resolved to move further ahead. Nothing breeds success like success.
Those who question the President now on issues of the Economy-War-Health Care and Gay Rights should look closely at his intent. To my eye it seems clear that this president is someone who has a to do list (like many of us do) and has prioritized everything on it and is checking away. Obama also strikes me as someone who understands that these issues are tough fights that will take time. It takes hard work and patience to find success. The Health care debate is in its 3rd quarter, Afghanistan in the 2nd Stimulus in the 2nd and gays in the military on deck. For those on the left who are now critical of his Afghan policy, what did you expect? He campaigned on making this war his priority, and for better or for worst he has followed through by initially sending extra troops and now reevaluating U.S. interests there after a questionable Afghan election. For all others, relax, and let's remember where we started -- with eight years of George Bush -- and take it one step at a time. We as a nation need to acknowledge the seriousness of the problems that confront us. We as a people need to get serious about solving them with a real debate of ideas (not name calling) or we will never really progress. The Obama administration cannot do it alone, it is after all still a Nation "of the people and for the people." Even Mother Teresa didn't cure the world's ills in four years.