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Jacob Heilbrunn

Jacob Heilbrunn

Posted: August 24, 2009 11:54 AM

Stop Panicking About Obama


The verdict on President Obama is already in and it's not a pretty one: he's bungled health care. The economy is going nowhere. The Republicans are making a comeback. And it's all Obama's fault. If he had only made the case for fundamental change, as Paul Krugman argues in today's New York Times, the American people wouldn't be suspicious of big government. Obama is too passive, too read to compromise, naive, getting rolled by the right. In short, he's squandering the promise of his presidency.

Baloney. The idea seems to be that Obama can wave a magic wand and get Congress to cooperate and, in a flash, efface decades of anti-government rhetoric. He can't. What he can do is hew to a middle course, persuade the Democrats against their instincts for self-immolation that a compromise bill would be best, and watch as the radical right pushes the GOP even further into the breakdown lane.

By the end of this year, Obama will be in a very strong position. Congress will pass a health care bill -- not a perfect one, to put it mildly, but it will be the first step toward creating comprehensive coverage. Obama will be able to claim it as a big win, as will congressional Democrats.

Then there's the economy. Unemployment will remain high, but Obama will be able to point to a revival, not just in the stock market, but also in jobs creation. With a reviving economy, the Democrats will be in an impregnable position by the 2010 midterm elections. The Republicans who are counting on an off-year for the Democrats should think again.

What about foreign policy? Obama will have greatly curtailed the American presence in Iraq. Within a year, it will also become clear whether his approach to Afghanistan -- upping the number of troops -- is working. In addition, Pakistan seems to be stabilizing. Both would count as big wins for Obama.

Despite all the caterwauling about Obama, then, he remains firmly on course to become one of the most important Democratic presidents in history. It's always tempting to demand more, to see betrayal of the cause. It's what conservatives have been doing for decades, as they declared that even George W. Bush wasn't conservative enough.

There is no reason to panic about Obama. His sobriety and sound judgment are his greatest assets. So far, the most significant thing about Obama isn't that he hasn't accomplished more, but how successful his presidency has already been.