In December 2008, The Journal held a panel discussion in which three students and two faculty members focused on the significance of Barack Obama’s historic election as president of the United States. Excerpts from the talk were featured in the February 2009 issue of the paper. Here, two participants—drama student Shalita Grant and Liberal Arts faculty member Anthony Lioi—reflect on Obama’s first year in office.
It’s been a full year since our president was elected and the question that people have been asking since the day he took office is: is he delivering on his promises? Last year, I took part in a Juilliard panel discussion on Barack Obama’s presidency and our country’s racial history. Everyone on the panel spoke about their hopes and expectations, as well as their general excitement and surprise that we’ve elected a black president. Students and teachers at Juilliard weren’t the only people having this conversation. The country at large was abuzz about our president-elect, and they were armed with hopes as well as doubts.
A few months ago I was asked to write about my feelings a year later. With that assignment I was forced to look back on what was said those many, many months ago, and to decide if I still agree.
We said he was a gentleman. Well, this is certainly still true. I was shocked and also delighted many times this year by the conduct of our president. There hasn’t been one story about Barack Obama saying something obnoxious or uneducated, in foreign policy or domestic affairs. If anything, some of the disgruntled media reported that he was too courteous, too inclusive, too smooth (which, in comparison to our last president, I don’t see as problems).
We all agreed he was smart and that his rhetoric was incomparable. This too rings true, but with a slight taint. The speeches he made at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, when he was named president-elect, and a few months later on the steps of the Capitol at his inauguration were awe-inspiring, moving, and filled with promise. However, during the first 100 days of his presidency, the question immediately on the table was, will the president deliver? The media picked at and overanalyzed everything Obama did. From health care to the war to the bailouts, he’s made many a promise—but not much has really changed. Is this the fault of our president? Yes and no. No, because he has put forth bills, extended a hand to the Republicans, and yet the proposals keep being held up by Congress. Our Congress seems to be stuck in old politics, which makes it harder to actually get things done. However, Obama may take some blame and that’s only because he respects our system of checks and balances (unlike our last president).
The fact that I feel proud to be an American again helps me to stay positive about Obama’s administration. I still feel free of the burden of bad leadership. But yet, I feel it’s a bit too early to decide whether he is all the man we expect him to be because his term is four years in length, not one. And even though not much has been completed, he has begun to fix the problems he promised he would solve. He has pushed a health care bill through to the Senate (which both parties have done a good job of weakening), begun the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and presented strategies to get us out of the current recession.
But I guess we’re tired of delay and want to see action now because we’ve all—whether we’re willing to admit it or not—been living in a limbo for the last eight years. I know that the last administration created a huge mess, but it will take longer than a year to untangle what’s been done.