That night, Hannah Weaver held her breath with her fellow Young Democrats at an election party as blue slowly curved past the midpoint line of the meter. Along with the other volunteers at the King County Republican Party headquarters in Bellevue, Will Hagen paused and watched the news silently as the polls began to close. Self-proclaimed Libertarian Steve Heidenreich sat with his roommates in his McMahon cluster, waiting as the minutes on the clock suddenly turned into seconds.
And then, it happened: Barack Obama was announced the 44th president of the United States.
It’s been almost a year since that historic moment. Today, Hagen, Heidenreich and Weaver reflect on Obama’s performance thus far. They’ll discuss his achievements, his health-care reform agenda, his efforts to achieve bipartisan compromise, and his future as president.
Earlier this month, Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. While many critics have questioned his qualifications for the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee explained in a press release that the prize was awarded to Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Weaver, a sophomore and secretary of the Young Democrats, said she believes that Obama’s diplomatic efforts have been some of his greatest achievements in that they have improved the international community’s perception of the United States.
“The speed at which it’s happened really surprised me, and also made me feel very heartened about the future,” Weaver said.
When asked what he thought was Obama’s greatest achievement, Heidenreich replied without a moment’s hesitation: “Absolutely nothing.”
More specifically, Heidenreich, a junior and outreach director of Young Americans for Liberty, listed the failure to close the detention camps in Guantanamo Bay, government bailouts and the ongoing participation of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence that the Obama administration has been unsuccessful thus far.
After a short pause, Heidenreich added: “The one good thing he has done is that he’s been more open diplomatically with Cuba and Iran, countries that, up until now, we have had no dialogue with. That’s his only achievement.”
Hagen, a sophomore and director of off-campus affairs for the College Republicans, took a moment before answering the same question.
“He’s at least attempted to advance his health-care agenda,” he offered.
The Obama administration’s agenda to advance health-care reform has been at the forefront of political discourse.
Democratic legislators are drafting a health-care bill to be debated in Congress, the most controversial provision of which is the introduction of a government-run public option.
Hagen went on to refer to the administration’s approach to health-care reform as one of its greatest shortcomings.
“[Obama] has continually extended the deadline for universal health coverage, and that’s never a good thing,” he said.
The president promised a health-care plan before Congress’ August recess.
Weaver recognized the difficulties of developing health-care reform legislation, but she also maintained that even the little progress it has had in Congress should be acknowledged as an achievement.
“It’s certainly frustrating to see something that was one of his biggest campaign platforms not materialize as quickly as I hoped, [but] the fact we’ve gotten this far with health-care reform is very hopeful,” Weaver said.
“Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” Obama declared in his election-night victory speech.
Health-care reform is an issue that has thus far been generally unsuccessful at crossing partisan lines, even though Obama has long been an advocate for bipartisan compromise.
Weaver feels optimistic that under the current administration, some party cooperation has been achieved.
“There’s been a lot of animosity from [conservatives], and it’s really hard to cross the aisle when you have to listen to the vitriol being spouted by the other side,” Weaver said. “[However], he’s got some Republicans on board who agree with what he’s done, so there are Republicans willing to work with Democrats.”
Heidenreich, on the other hand, asserted that a political consensus under the Obama administration not only has not, but will not be achieved.
“It’s not going to happen; it really won’t,” he said. “He’s really coming from a far-left position, and any sensible right-winger won’t have anything to do with it.”
Future of the presidency
While it has only been about nine months since Obama has formally taken office, one can’t help but speculate on the remaining three years of the term.
Heidenreich stated that Obama’s popularity could plummet in the coming years as he continues to introduce what Heidenreich deemed “unpopular bills.”
However, Heidenreich acknowledged that the condition of the economy may also influence public opinion of Obama.
“Depending on whether [the economy] bounces back or not, people will either be okay with him or people will continue to dislike him more and more as the years go on,” he said.
Hagen believes that the Republican Party will have the upper hand in next year’s midterm elections.
“People are disgruntled with how things are going in Congress,” he said. “I think conservatives are gearing up for a big comeback in 2010, and, if they do stage a comeback, it’s going to be hard for [the Democrats] to do much of anything.”
Weaver maintained that the presidency is headed toward a successful term, due in large part to Obama’s role as a communicator and his emphasis on dialogue.
“I turn on the TV, and I regularly see Obama giving press conferences, delivering speeches and answering questions about his policy, and that was something you rarely ever saw [under the Bush administration],” she said. “Sometimes it can be a little discouraging, but overall, I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Reach contributing writer Joanna Nolasco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please read our Comment policy.