What Arianna calls timidity, I call patience.
Campaigning is not the same as governing. In 2007 and 2008, Obama never needed Congressional approval for the executive decisions his campaign made. He never had to worry about securing Joe Lieberman's vote. Governing is more complex, certainly less pure, and noticeably more incremental than most of us would hope. But in American government, even in the midst of revolutionary progressive change, things take time.
It was the same way, by the way, with the Obama campaign. Judging Obama's presidency based on his first 9 months in office is like judging his campaign based on its first five. During that time, as Arianna notes in her column, Obama had difficulty connecting with voters and often felt that the campaign lacked the mojo he had hoped for. He was choppy in debates, often disappointing supporters and worrying campaign aides. And for months and months he trailed Hillary Clinton by double digits, causing such turmoil among his fans that he found himself surrounded by donors and top-tier supporters begging that he change course.
But he didn't change course, despite those who demanded it. He took the long view, saw the road to victory, and never took his eye off that ball.
In that sense, Obama has governed just as he campaigned. Despite calls for him to change strategy by those on the left, including many on this site, Obama has held steady to the strategy he and his team first envisioned. He promised not to forget the middle class, and made good on that promise by saving the economy from a Depression. It took him just 9 months to get the economy growing again. In the meantime, he delivered on his campaign promise to provide a middle-class tax cut to 95% of Americans. He saved the major car companies from collapse, unfroze the credit markets and put the country back on a path to begin job growth anew. Unemployment is still high, to be sure, but all signs point to a turnaround within a year.
Those of course, were not the only accomplishments of Obama's first 9 months, not the only marks of his commitment to the change he promised. He made substantial investments in renewable energy, signed the equal pay act, signed hate crimes legislation and ended restrictions on stem cells. He restored trust to the Justice Department, which is currently conducting a torture investigation, and ended raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.
He promised more openness, more transparency, a different way of operating in Washington, and has to date, presided over the most transparent administration in American history.
His approach to Afghanistan is, in itself, proof of a sea change in the way business is done in Washington. His thorough and lengthy internal debate about the future of that war is focused on articulating a clear strategy that makes sense to the American people and offers a clear and reasonable exit. Politics does not appear to play any role in his decisions, no matter the pressure to decide more hastily.
Around the world, Obama has remade the image of America. In his first year in office, the United States went from the seventh most admired country in the world to the first. He was the first president to chair the UN Security Council, the first to speak in Arabic in a major address.
And of course, there is health care reform, which should pass by the end of this year, and will likely cover 95% of Americans. Any objective observer should consider such a feat to be the biggest domestic legislative accomplishment since Medicare in 1965.
There are those who will complain, as Arianna has, that Obama is more concerned with courting Olympia Snowe's vote than with providing the most progressive policy possible to the American people. But at this point, it's not clear that is what he's doing. We do hear that privately, the White House is pushing for a triggered public option, which would most likely earn Snowe's vote. But I have a hard time believing that winning Snowe's vote is the only reason the White House is pushing for a trigger.
The robust public option that Nancy Pelosi promised would be in the House bill just a week ago is so horribly watered down now that it will actually have higher premiums than private insurance. With higher premiums, there is no way that the public option will actually do anything to control costs. But many on the left would rather the symbolic victory than the policy victory. They would prefer a public option of no real value then a trigger that might have some teeth.
The White House surely must recognize that they are more likely to get a robust public option in the bill, one which will have the intended effect of reducing costs, if they tie it to a trigger. And if the left would stop criticizing the trigger and instead start pushing to define it as a progressive one, the best of both worlds could come to fruition. After all, a trigger that would require insurance companies to reduce costs over the next five years, or else risk a public option tied to Medicare rates, is more likely to actually reduce costs than the one in the current House bill. Does the White House want Olympia Snowe's support? Of course they do. (Let's not forget that that same campaign Arianna is such a fan of was big on bipartisanship.) But in this instance, it may well be that the best policy is aligned with bipartisanship - a true rarity in Washington.
The broader point is this: Obama has accomplished an extraordinary amount in his first nine months. He has kept campaign promises, and in doing so has brought real change to this country in a number of substantial ways.
He had the audacity to win and the patience to govern.
We should be patient too.