By Vinnie Aggarwal
Although President Barack Obama entered into office promising change, his first year in office has been largely typified by stalled developments and stunted outcomes. Many have expressed disappointment at his performance thus far, but most acknowledge that expectations for miracles after a mere year are perhaps unrealistic. In the administration's second year, however, more concrete results will be expected. As the sheen of his celebrity begins to wane, and with the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts on January 20, 2010, portending a difficult November midterm election that will further threaten the Democratic Party's Congressional mandate, how Obama delivers on the nations most pressing issues - the economy, national security, health care, education, and global warming - will determine whether his role as a transformative president will be remembered as merely symbolic or actually substantive.
Obama only started pulling ahead in the 2008 presidential campaign shortly after, and arguably largely because of, the financial crisis. Clearly, getting the economy back on track again will continue to be a top priority in 2010. As it stands, the third quarter of 2009 saw a 2.2 percent GDP growth following four quarters of decline.1 The White House Council of Economic Advisers also reports that the $787 billion stimulus package passed last year has saved 2 million jobs and added between 1.5 to 3 percent in GDP growth to the fourth quarter of 2009.2 However, GDP growth has been slower than originally projected, and the unemployment rate has hit 10 percent - the highest in 26 years.3,4 Moreover, much of the third-quarter growth was driven by the government stimulus, and there is fear that as the stimulus package begins to unwind, so will the recovery.5 Now that the economy has turned a corner, its first steps will set the pace for the road toward recovery.
The 2009 Christmas Day airport bombing attempt has redoubled focus on security threats with citizens now more supportive of the Afghan war and more willing to exchange civil liberties for personal safety.6 Given the president's Afghan surge plan and his failure to close Guantanamo by the end of the year as previously promised, this change in sentiments is not unwelcome.7 However, barring more attacks, public opinion will have shifted by next year's new deadline to close Guantanamo, not to mention July 2011, when U.S. troops are due to pull out of Afghanistan.8 Still unresolved is the Iranian nuclear weapon issue, the future stability of Iraq, and the perennial Arab-Israeli conflict. How the administration deals with these issues will not only determine future national security, but will also establish whether it can be secured in a manner consistent with American ideals for which Obama has long argued.
2009's hot-button issues included the long-term problems of health care reform and global warming; 2010 promises to throw education into the mix. The passage of a health care bill now seems less likely. Health care reform has been on the table arguably since the early 1900s, and it remains to be seen if a bill can be crafted that will be of any real substance given the rigorous political slicing and dicing it will have undergone.9 Global warming also dominated the news in 2009 and finished with disappointing results at the December Copenhagen summit. With public consensus on the importance of global warming waning and the international consensus necessary to address the problem effectively stalled, President Obama has his work cut out.10 Finally, although largely overshadowed in 2009, President Obama seems poised to tackle education as his next big policy initiative in 2010. He recently announced a $250 million public-private campaign to train more math and science teachers, and his $4.3 billion "Race to the Top Fund" rewards schools that show they are raising standards. Addressing these long-term issues today is imperative: 16 percent of GDP is currently spent on health care, more than any other industrial economy with negligible difference in health outcomes, and Americans lag far behind foreign counterparts in math and science, which threatens the strength of tomorrow's economy.11 Perhaps most dire however, is the unexaggerated potential for apocalypse if global warming is not adequately dealt with today.
Obama's challenges in 2010 are many and to varying degrees will affect citizens more directly today, like the economy, or tomorrow, like health care, education, and global warming. Many more straddle the present and the future, like terrorism and extremism. These challenges are furthermore framed by his campaign promise of change. 2010 presents Obama with the ultimate opportunity to show that he meant change for the better, both today and tomorrow.
2Washington Post, January 13, 2010.
3http://www.cnbc.com/id/34521513 and http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aD2_3qM.Vn3Q
5Voice of America, January 14, 2010.
11Business Week, January 11, 2010.