This year, halfway through his term, President Barack Obama has a number of accomplishments to highlight. Here's a list of some and what he still needs to tackle in the next two years.
As a child, I resented the State of the Union address each January, believing the TV shows it pre-empted were far more interesting than yet another political speech.
But as I grew older, I came to realize the annual address is actually a much-needed opportunity to check the pulse of the country — a chance to chart the progress of the previous year, as well as get a sneak peek at what the leader of the Free World hopes to do in the coming year.
This year, halfway through his term, President Barack Obama has a number of accomplishments to highlight. In the past year, the floundering economy has finally shown signs of recovery, and experts declared the worst recession since the Great Depression over.
Obama also fulfilled some key promises made on the campaign trail. On Aug. 19, 2010, the last U.S. combat brigade withdrew from Iraq. On Dec. 22, the 17-year-old controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law banning gay men and women from serving openly in the armed forces was repealed — something civil and human rights activists hailed as a major step toward true equality for all Americans.
It wasn’t Obama’s first foray into the fight for equality during his presidency. Shortly after his inauguration in 2009, the first bill the new president signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that makes it easier for workers to get the pay they deserve, regardless of gender, race or age.
The legislation, opposed by the White House when President George W. Bush was in office, was something Obama spoke of frequently during the presidential campaign, telling Ledbetter’s story to highlight the struggle many working Americans still face. Ledbetter herself was also often seen on the campaign trail, stumping for the man who would later help make her name an important part of U.S. history.
Perhaps one of the most defining moments of Obama’s presidency so far has been fulfilling his promise for health care overhaul. On March 23, 2010, with the stroke of 22 pens, Obama signed the most sweeping social legislation enacted in decades. It faced fierce opposition at first, and many Republicans and tea partiers campaigned on the promise to repeal it in the midterm elections. But despite a recent House vote in favor of repeal, which even GOP lawmakers admit is largely symbolic, the landmark law isn’t likely to be struck anytime soon.
Public opinion seems to be shifting, as well. According to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, strong opposition to the law has fallen to 30 percent — “close to the lowest level registered in AP-GfK surveys dating to September 2009.” The poll also finds Americans are now almost evenly split, with 40 percent saying they support the law, compared with 41 percent who oppose it.
However, while I agree with Obama’s proclamation, calling his term so far “the most productive two years that we’ve had in generations,” there is more work to be done.
One of the biggest challenges facing the country is the economy. Progress has been made, but millions remain unemployed and job creation will be one of Obama’s top priorities going forward. The sad state of the housing market — foreclosures hit a record 1 million in 2010 — will also need to be a priority.
Our ballooning federal deficit is another factor that needs to be rectified sooner rather than later. Getting the nation back on firmer financial footing is something most Americans agree is necessary, but it is only possible if lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are able to put differences aside and truly work together.
The willingness of many members of Congress to forgo the traditional State of the Union seating structure, which puts Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other, in favor of sitting with someone in the other political party is an encouraging step in the right direction, and it is nice to see those participating having so much fun making their “dates.”
Only time will tell if this bipartisan spirit will stick around, but if the toxic tone truly is swept out of Washington, the change the majority of Americans were hungry for during the ’08 elections may finally be brought to fruition.
City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times.