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Obama's Off To A Very Good Start

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One year ago, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. Is his presidency delivering on the promise of his candidacy? Yes. I think he's off to a very good start. But I'm not doing handstands.

I keep Obama's book containing his campaign program, Change We Can Believe In, on my desk. Is Obama doing what he said he would do? Yes, mostly.

It's important to be clear about something. Obama is not a left-wing politician; he's a center/left politician. That's clear when you examine what he ran on last year. He ran on a center/left platform, not a left-wing platform.

President-elect Barack Obama gives his victory speech one year ago in Chicago.

Many on the left and the right, either through misunderstanding or pursuit of their own agendas, get this wrong. Each wing imagines (or pretends to imagine) that Obama is a lefty, and alternately prods and assails him on that false basis.

But let's not clear space on Mount Rushmore just yet. Just as I didn't think he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize -- which looks even more premature now than it did when it was announced last month -- yet, as I wrote here on the Huffington Post. I don't think that Obama's very good start equates to a great presidency.

Though Obama may well turn out to be a great president. Let's keep in mind that little of what he's trying to do is easy. He inherited an enormous, complex mess when he took office. And he's only been in office for nine and a half months.

Let's look at what he's done. Actually, for starters, let's look at what he's doing. It's a very expansive and complex agenda. I run his schedule on my site, NewWestNotes.com, with explanations, every day to frame the day. It's hard enough to keep up with all the things Obama is doing. Imagine how hard it would be to try to do all those things.

Here's a look at the biggest things Obama has been up to.

Bruce Springsteen introduced the Obamas at a rally of 80,000 the weekend before the election in Cleveland.

Obama has established an excellent, and elevated, new tone for America, here and abroad. That counts for a lot, even though his foes on the far right insist on trying to bring him down with the most toxic, demonizing sort of politics.

The economy has definitely improved greatly. When Obama took office, there were widespread fears that the system was on the verge of collapse, that we were headed into a New Great Depression. That hasn't happened, and it won't happen. And the economy has finally started growing again. Employment lags, but it is always a lagging indicator.

The economic stimulus program has helped, as has the massive reinflation of the financial system.

Could both those things have been done better? Sure. I wish the stimulus had more infrastructure spending in it and less pork. But that's what you get when Congress plays a heavy hand in writing the plan and you need 60 votes in the Senate.

The other good thing about the stimulus is that most of the money still hasn't been spent. This backloading, which looked bad early this year, looks better now, as this nascent recovery is going to have to be nursed into a full-fledged recovery with a lot more jobs.

In a speech entitled "A New Beginning," President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world five months ago at Cairo University in Egypt.

The reinflation of a deflating financial system could go better, too. Frankly, it looks like Obama cut a deal with Wall Street -- which still labors under the misapprehension of its unique brilliance even after nearly tanking the global economy -- to exhibit a lighter hand in re-regulation along with all that money that has been poured into the system.

Of course, it's not at all clear that Obama could get really tough financial re-regulations through Congress.

On national health care, it looks like Obama will get a major bill through Congress. It hasn't been pretty and it hasn't been easy.

If it were easy, national health care reform would have already passed sometime in the more than 100 years since it was raised by Teddy Roosevelt. Obama's efforts have been hindered by the loss of his great ally, Ted Kennedy, who would have made an enormous difference in the Senate. Nancy Pelosi has things covered for Obama in the House.

On the environment and energy, Obama has taken major steps. Among other things, he's allowing California to move forward with its landmark climate change program, which had been blocked by the Bush/Cheney Administration, and which other states will follow. He's sharply increased fuel efficiency standards. He's promoting a big green tech industry with a focus on renewable energy and a smart transmission grid.

Because Congress is again a potential roadblock, and because national health care was deemed the priority this year, we won't play a big role in Copenhagen next month when the United Nations will try again to develop a global program on climate change. But Copenhagen is in trouble for other reasons, including the seeming inability of the European Union to come up with a subsidy plan for developing nations.

Obama says that he is surprised that he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

On human rights, Obama has ended the policy of torture that has given America such a black eye around the world. And he is moving to shut down the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay. But torture is more popular than some would like to think, so closing Gitmo isn't as easy as imagined. The Senate has been unhelpful in that.

On LGBT issues, he's made some moves. But he hasn't been able to end the don't ask/don't tell policy in the military yet. And gay marriage is no closer to reality now than it was a year ago, when it was defeated in California. Even liberal Maine repealed its gay marriage law in yesterday's public vote.

On geopolitics, Obama has moved dramatically to fix relations with the rest of the world. He is really very popular around the world and that helps America. His Cairo address to the Islamic world five months ago was brilliant. He's balancing better relations with mainstream Islam with going after jihadists who threaten America.

Iraq is a troubled country, but we are on schedule to withdraw combat troops as promised. Obama is diplomatically engaging Iran and Syria, and we'll see how that turns out. Israel and Palestine remain, not surprisingly, seemingly intractable. Pakistan, with more aid from America, largely civilian, has rolled back big Taliban gains there. Which brings us to Afghanistan.

Obama has a fateful decision to make on Afghanistan. Actually, he has several, as the sequence of events plays out.

Obama inherited a president, installed by Bush and Cheney after the successful takedown of the Taliban and disruption of Al Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks, who has certainly not worked out. The recent elections there took place -- which they could not have last year -- but have been a disaster.

Last Thursday, Obama went to Dover Air Force Base for the return of 18 Americans killed last week in Afghanistan.

Now Obama has to decide whether to continue or even expand a nation-building exercise there, or focus on the much more limited and much more reasonable goal of ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot again use Afghanistan as a base of operations. It looks like he will split the difference in Afghanistan, which amounts to continuing on a course which is not promising. What Obama does after he does that may tell the tale of his presidency.

In terms of politics, he's doing fine. Obama has settled into the mid-50s in job approval, which I think is good given the straits that America remains in.

The off-year elections yesterday weren't a referendum on Obama. But we did learn a few good things to know.

* There were no Obama coattails in states where he has good numbers, i.e., Virginia and New Jersey. At least not for weak (Virginia ) or unpopular (New Jersey) candidates.

* It was a bad night for big business moguls with Corzine going down and Bloomberg winning relatively narrowly in New York City after record-setting spending.

* Gay marriage still isn't quite there.

* And the big split in the GOP between far right and moderate Republicans worked badly for the Republicans in upstate New York where Democrats (with a late swooping visit from Vice President Joe Biden) took the longtime GOP seat previously held by Obama's new secretary of the Army.

Since that Republican intra-party battle is not only continuing but spreading, that's great news for Obama.

So, with regard to Obama one year after his election, I think he's doing well. No handstands, though.

It's not nirvana. Just an impressive, imperfect man dealing with the real world.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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