When President Barack Obama took office one year ago on Jan. 20, 2009, our nation was in the depth of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and burdened with two costly, directionless wars. From his first day in office, Obama has made these challenges his top priority. He has focused on returning our economy to its former vitality, bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to successful conclusions and reforming the health care system. Obama has also signed laws to strengthen civil rights protections and worked to regain respect for the United States from other countries.
As his first major legislative initiative, Obama persuaded Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which renewed government investment in infrastructure, science and education, while saving the jobs of thousands of Americans. In addition, he successfully managed the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which garnered a $4 billion profit (a 15-percent return on investment) for U.S. taxpayers. The program helped prevent the collapse of the American financial sector and thaw frozen credit markets.
Obama also recognizes the necessity of a strong industrial sector to the vitality of the middle class and to the strength of the American economy. He encouraged federal involvement to help General Motors Corp. and Chrysler through bankruptcies and to set the companies on track to return to a competitive position in the global marketplace. Following this restructuring, the Democrats passed “Cash for Clunkers,” a popular and successful program that provided a much-needed boost to domestic auto sales while helping to reduce carbon emissions from American automobiles.
Also on the domestic front, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which strengthens the 1964 Civil Rights Act, giving victims of employment discrimination an increased ability to recover damages. This law aims to protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion or national origin.
In addition to strengthening employment discrimination laws, Congress passed the Matthew Shephard Act of 2009, which extends federal hate crimes protections to LGBT Americans. The bill was named for a University of Wyoming student who was tortured and killed in 1998 because of his sexual orientation. Republicans in Congress have long opposed extending hate crimes protections to cover LGBT Americans, but Obama signed the bill into law in October.
Obama continues to champion health insurance reform and has made more progress on the issue than any president in history. Although the legislation has yet to be finalized, it should decidedly improve competition in the health insurance market, reduce costs of coverage and expand access to care. It will prohibit health insurance providers from discriminating against people due to pre-existing conditions and bar them from dropping patients that get sick. This reform will benefit students by requiring health insurance providers to cover individuals under their parents’ plans until age 26. Despite lacking a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate after Tuesday’s special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat, health insurance reform will likely pass Congress in the coming weeks.
Overseas, Obama has faced the difficult tasks of rebuilding our diplomatic alliances, implementing a new strategy in Afghanistan, managing operations in Iraq and fighting terrorism. Today, the U.S. is once again making diplomacy a central component of its foreign policy and has rebuilt alliances around the globe. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to promote peace and diplomacy.
Obama has proven his commitment to fighting terrorism by emphasizing the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In his first month in office, Obama ordered an increase in troop presence there and has placed American forces on the offensive against terrorist leaders. In addition, he has worked with General Stanley McChrystal to employ new strategies that recognize the unique nature of the war in Afghanistan.
In Iraq, Obama has continued to implement the Status of Forces Agreement that American commanders negotiated with the Iraqi Government, which should end the presence of American forces in Iraq by the end of 2011.
Obama has also reclaimed the moral high ground in the War on Terrorism. He has ended the use of torture and is implementing plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He has begun the process of prosecuting accused terrorists held in American custody. Obama’s anti-terrorism policies have improved America’s moral standing, revitalized its international respect and kept America safer from terrorist attack.
There is no simple solution to our nation’s problems, but Obama’s first year is an example of the determination and hard work that has made our nation great. His efforts are far from complete — our country certainly has more challenges ahead than behind — but Obama has made remarkable strides in addressing issues of critical importance.
This viewpoint was written by Robert Bowen and Josh LeVasseur on behalf of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats.