very good job, room for improvement

Looking back over 2009 without getting into details, I’m convinced historians will positively view Obama’s first year in office. I think historians will say Obama succeeded in attempting to “set the table” for the “dinner” that is ultimately to come. You can see this in his outreach to the muslim world. And, in his approach to reforming health care, by working with Capitol Hill in a way that came perilously close to too much “hands off.” The stimulus plan epitomizes this approach, since, by definition, the benefits are suppose to come soon-after in the near to medium term.

From what I can glean, Obama is detached in a cool, Kennedy-like manner; but, unlike Clinton in his early years, his team doesn’t appear to let things spiral down into chaos because of this cool detachment. No one is mistaking the detachment for lack of concern or discipline.

Obama’s business model appears to be working.  He gives the Capitol Hill big wigs room to do their stuff, and lets them get the credit. So, in Obama 2009, the public did not see an over-reaching figure trying to meet certain benchmarks for this or that agenda item, and, in so doing, running rough-shod over the public or Capitol Hill.  Of course, Republicans belly-ached — but that’s an expected part of political kabuki, right?

In contrast, Clinton, in my opinion, over-reached with his health care reform by failing to include the public, an approach many pundits say was responsible for undoing that earlier reform effort.  (But, let’s remember that, for every Moses, there’s got to be an Aaron).  By taking his time and including the public, Obama inoculates his team and the Democrats against Harry and Louise and fulminating right-wing Republicans.

So, yeah, Obama’s polls might me down; but that’s to be expected.  There was bound to be some amount of fog that would surround, befuddle and even scare Joe and Jane Q. Public.  But the fog will eventually lift, and, when it does, we’ll see were moving on the right path.

But all of the above is about how Obama “managed” 2009 very well. For that, history will applaud Obama. But for history to really take notice of Obama, he’s going to have to take his presidency to another level. That doesn’t mean scolding pols holding out on health care reform even more, or wagging an angry finger in the direction of Wall Street. No, Obama needs to think along the lines of what Lincoln sought to do with his Gettysburg Address, as Garry Wills convincingly writes.

I’d love for Obama to give a presumptively low-profile speech (perhaps delivered on a Friday morning to a gathering of bleary-eyed Rotarians or Lion’s Club members) that, in a candid-speak manner that Obama is capable of, connects health care reform, the global economic system, and America’s role now and far, far into the 21st century.  As the pre-eminent leader in the world, America has an obligation to be a beacon of hope and freedom, and to see that these ideals are strengthened and woven into international regimes, accords, and norms of behavior. Yet the economy we are in is characterized by ebbs and flows the likes and magnitudes to which we are not yet accustomed, although 2008-2009 was certainly a wake up call.   This will not change.  Against this larger backdrop, things like health care reform matter by offering Americans a firmer footing in a global economic regime characterized by flux. Innovation, capital- and business formation matter. Rather than undoing it, we want to and must continue to be the leader in this fast-paced new economic order. Can you imagine a world where an economic giant like China becomes the driving force behind the norms and principles of international regimes and agreements?


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