Obama still has 3 years to get the job done


POSTED: Thursday, November 05, 2009

It's safe to say that the honeymoon's over.

Depending on who is making the assessment, President Barack Obama is either doing too much—radically altering all that we cherish as Americans!—or too little—governing timidly, seeking compromise where none is warranted, failing to act like he won!

Tuesday's elections, in which Republicans won gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, are cited as major evidence that the entire U.S. electorate is growing disenchanted with the Democratic leader.

But barely a year after the historic election that made the Hawaii-born Punahou School alumnus the nation's first black president and less than 12 months after he actually took office, it is far too soon to properly judge Barack Obama as a president and certainly premature to deem him a failure.

On one momentous issue alone—universal health care—this White House has made more progress than any administration in history. Love it or hate it, it is impossible to dispute the fact that Obama is getting somewhere on health care reform, and that's no shoulder-shrugging achievement. It's been a goal of Democrats since before the New Deal.

Some former supporters deride Obama for not getting U.S. troops out of Iraq more quickly, given that he was against the war there during the campaign. But the president should not be criticized for being methodical in his decision-making regarding U.S. troop levels in Iraq and in Afghanistan. One of the lasting lessons of the Vietnam War should be that wartime decisions based on political expediency rather than larger American interests have profoundly unsatisfactory results.

On the domestic front, Obama was handed a U.S. economy teetering on the brink of collapse, a depth of fiscal misery not seen since the Great Depression. Now the economy is growing again. Yes, in fits and starts, and painfully slowly, but expanding, no longer receding.

Political pundits and party operatives are poring over Tuesday's results and cherry-picking the votes that support their positions, looking ahead to next year's midterm Congressional elections.

So the GOP sees a good omen in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, while Democrats crow over taking a U.S. House seat that New York state Republicans had held for generations.

But more neutral election observers have it right: Gubernatorial races revolve around state issues, not national ones. Independents remain impatient and fickle (they liked Democrats less this year than last). And, as always, the economy is the ultimate voter issue.

Obama no doubt is humbled by some of Tuesday's outcomes, but he should not be cowed. His mandate is for four years, not one.