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One Year Ago, One Year From Now

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This is the one year anniversary of Barack Obama's historic and incredibly exciting election as President of the United States. I was proud of our country that day, that after slavery, Jim Crow, the terrible treatment of Native Americans, and the nasty anti-immigrant laws and rhetoric of our history, that we could elect an African-American son of an immigrant, a man with an African Muslim name, to be President of these United States. The fact that he was the first Democratic Presidential candidate elected with a clear majority of the vote since 1964 made it especially sweet.

I had been a financial contributor, an occasional advice giver, an endorser in the primary fight, a steady blogger about the race, and a frequent doorknocker for the campaign, so I felt like I had contributed in a variety of ways. And when I was asked to lend a hand helping out the transition team, I was honored to do so, and happily volunteered a great many hours to the effort. This combination of things made me feel fully excited and invested in the Obama Presidency, and greatly looking forward to his first term.

As fate would have it, I also had a book that came out in January (The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be) that told the story of what I called "Big Change Moments" in American history, and the progressive political and movement leaders who had brought them about. I went around the country on my book tour spreading the message that if progressives helped President Obama with the big change on his political agenda, that this would be another era of major, history making progressive change in this country.

A year after that incredible moment when people in America were literally dancing in the streets in elation, and one year from the crucial 2010 elections when the American people will register their first big judgment on what Obama has delivered them, I find myself genuinely torn about how this Presidency is going, conflicted in a number of ways. While I am more optimistic than pessimistic, I also find myself troubled about some important things a year after that momentous Election Day.

On the one hand, there are so many things I am happy about. It is such a wonderful thing to once again feel pride and confidence when the President leading the country that I love is representing us abroad. The values that the President brings to world affairs, the honest and respectful engagement with other leaders in the world, and the intelligence he brings to the discussions are such a relief in contrast to our last President. Even when I disagree with him on major international issues such as what to do about Afghanistan, I deeply respect the thoughtfulness and thoroughness with which he approaches the incredibly complex decision-making he has to engage in. And on his overall legislative agenda, I am deeply impressed that he is taking on the big important complicated fights like health care, climate change, immigration reform, and banking legislation, even while all the while paying constant attention to our incredibly damaged economy. He has kept us from sliding further into the economic abyss, and both his stimulus package and first year budget proposal make big and transformative long term investments in things that will build our economy for decades to come, including energy efficiency, universal broadband and other technology, infrastructure, and education.

He has also begun to change the terms of the debate in American politics, bringing a sense of community values and thoughtful intelligence to our national debate that we haven't seen for quite a while. It is wonderful to have a President with his kind of values be able to inspire and move so many of us to action.

Here's where I find myself deeply troubled and conflicted, though. When I look back on the towering Presidents of American history, the ones who faced and conquered the massive challenges of their eras that at least equal the big challenges of our time, I read about them taking on the entrenched powers that be, and forcing them to bend so that America could make a much needed course correction. I find myself wondering: did progressives in those eras feel the sense of frustration and slowness about the prospects of fundamental change that many of us feel today? They may well have, which makes me aware I should be patient. My problem is that change doesn't feel like its coming fast enough, that the President has not been bold enough in taking on the powers that be. When I see Tim Geithner seeming perfectly comfortable with the size, power, and risky behavior of the big banks, it makes my blood boil. When I see all those appointees to the administration who used to work at Goldman Sachs, it makes me really nervous. When I see a White House that seems too comfortable with cutting deals with big business lobbyists, and unwilling to challenge the pro-big business members of their own party, it bothers me.

I am looking for big, deep, transformative, history making change, and am looking for an administration eager to work with the progressive movement to help make that happen. My optimistic side sees the good things that have happened, and appreciates them. I remind myself that it took Lincoln almost two years to free the slaves, and it took FDR more than two years to pass Social Security- even in big change eras, it doesn't always happen immediately. But it's only a year until the next election, and if we don't start delivering real change and real results- tangible results- for the American people soon on jobs and health care and other big issues, we won't have a chance for bigger changes in 2011.

Barack Obama raised our expectations through the roof with his stirring campaign. He needs to deliver change we can believe in. He needs to convince us that "yes, we can" is more than a political slogan. He needs to take seriously the history of struggle he is always talking about, and create the same kind of big transformative change that Lincoln and TR and FDR and LBJ did.

So, one year after the election, what do you think Candidate Obama would think of President Obama? Tweet your response (our Twitter hashtag is #OneYearLater), or post it in the comments section.

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