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Jacob Heilbrunn

Jacob Heilbrunn

Posted: December 17, 2009 12:44 PM

Please, Cut Obama Some Slack

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A year ago, Barack Obama was a hero for Democrats. Now he's becoming a villain. Have the Democrats lost their minds?

The tenebrous story is recounted by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, who notes that some liberals are even starting to join forces with the tea party to decry Obama over the confirmation of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. The decriers are also upset about Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, the administration's readiness to make concessions on health care, its failure to shutter Guantanamo, along with a host of other grievances. In their version of events, Obama is a feckless panderer, a traitor to liberalism whose conciliatory instincts have prompted him to capitulate to his opponents, time and again. His first term has become George W. Bush's third. And so on.

But is Obama really such a wimp? Or is he dealing with the harsh reality of: 1) the legacy of the Bush era; and 2) a divided Democratic party that has, in many ways, betrayed him?

It's hard to imagine that this is the health care plan that Obama envisioned during the campaign. Nor did he want to have to send tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan. But imagine the outcry had Obama begun to exit Afghanistan. He would have been the victim of a new stab-in-the-back legend on the right that might well have destroyed his presidency before it even had the chance to get off the ground. When it comes to health care, Congress will surely revisit it in coming years. Whether or not the bill contains a Medicare expansion, Obama is exactly right to say that it represents the biggest potential Democratic accomplishment since the establishment of Social Security. Little Joe Lieberman can pout and strut all he wants, but ultimately he'll be a mere footnote in the history of the bill.

The blunt fact is that Obama has been president for one measly year. Compared to the blunders that other presidents have committed early on, Obama is looking good. If the economy improves, he will look even better. So ignore the tedious and hypertrophied Obama bashers. And never forget that he is as as good and intelligent and decent a president as America will ever have. He still has a chance to become one of the greatest. Eight years from now, after Obama has successfully served two terms, that judgment may well look like a commonplace.