Now THIS is the Obama we voted for
Barack Obama had quite a week last week. Combined with his recent trip to Europe and the Middle East, we’re starting to see “hope” and “change” interacting with the real world.
Obama’s first 100 days have been dominated by economic concerns, and with good reason. Ultimately, Obama’s first term will be defined by the economy. But the reality is that Obama’s economic decisions have been largely dictated to him. Though you wouldn’t know it from listening to conservative talking heads, had a Republican won the presidency his economic policies would have been quite similar to Obama’s. It’s easy for the GOP to criticize Obama’s stimulus now that they’re out of power, but the reality is that economic theory demands government spending during a recession. The size of the stimulus is largely dictated by the size of the crisis. A Republican president (or another Democrat) may have allocated the money differently, but the bottom line would have been much the same.
That’s why, despite the unprecedented size of the stimulus (and of our national debt), Obama hadn’t done much of anything outside the box.
That’s changing now. He’s completely changed the United State’s relationship with Cuba merely by easing unnecessary and ineffective travel restrictions. In response, President/Dictator Raul Castro has indicated a willingness to at least talk about sensitive (and previously off-limits) issues as freedom of the press, human rights, and the release of political prisoners. It’s too early to predict how this will play out, but if the outcome we desire is a free Cuba, this is a step in the right direction. At the very least, it’s a step toward ending the hypocrisy– strict sanctions against Cuba while we bend over backwards to ensure that our trade relationship with China (and their infinitely worse human-rights violations) continues.
Obama has demonstrated that he understands the changing world. He’s aware that the US is no longer in a position to dictate policy to the rest of the world. Of course, the Sean Hannity’s of the world portray this as capitulation or surrender– how dare a US leader listen to the rest of the world? We view it as leadership. Obama has not compromised American national security– but he HAS shown humility and awillingness to listen. This can only serve him (and us) well in the future.
The situation with Latin America is similar. Conservative pundits have taken exception to Obama’s interactions with Hugo Chavez in particular– though once again, all Obama has done is demonstrated that he’s willing to listen. By taking a less arrogant position, Obama has increased the chances of meaningful change in our relationship with Venezuela and the rest of Latin America. He’s made no concessions– only changed the tone of our relationship.
By releasing the torture memos last week, Obama did what justice and transparency demand. On the other hand, by refusing to prosecute CIA personnel and others involved, Obama has signaled a desire to avoid petty distractions and move forward. While the waterboarding era is regrettable, prosecuting those responsible would do little good– and would ignite a political firestorm.
In short, Obama is doing what we thought he’d do. It’s early (and PLENTY could still go wrong), but he’s shown an ability to listen to foreign leaders without compromising American interests. He’s shown a desire not to linger in the past, but to confront problems head-on and move forward.
During the campaign, we thought that Obama’s soaring rhetoric was more than just talk. We believed that he understood the world of 2009, and more importantly that he had a vision for the future. We thought that his ability to analyze problems and build consensus were exactly what we needed at this critical moment in history.
So far, he has not disappointed.