A year of promised change

Ben Allen
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By Ben Allen, La Salle College

Little more than a year ago, there was global euphoria at what seemed to be the passing of an era. The presidency of George W Bush had come to an end, and the world cheered as the first ever black man took office as president of the United States of America: Barack Obama.

President Obama inherited a mess - a looming financial meltdown, two wars, Republican fury and a wrecked international image. Critics and supporters alike recognised that it would be a tough four years in office for him - but, as he said in Chicago the day after the election: 'Change has come to America.'

Since then, everybody has been closely watching his performance - perhaps more than any president before.

For the most part, the verdict has been harsh. Despite starting his presidency with more than a 70 per cent approval rating in America, it is now less than 50 per cent. Support for the war in Afghanistan is dwindling, and the single biggest domestic issue of his tenure so far - healthcare reform - has been under fire from voters, Democrats and Republicans alike. But it is worthwhile recalling that Obama never promised miracle cures to anything. Obama promised change - and in that respect he has delivered.

He has made tough decisions. He put a Republican, Ben Bernanke, at the head of the Federal Reserve Bureau in an effort to steer the economy away from deep recession, perhaps depression. He has so far resisted pressure to bash Wall Street, recognising the need to let the financial world heal without too much external influence. His government also bailed out Detroit.

In the Senate and in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pushed as many bills through as possible, in what appears to be a genuine effort to get America's most significant healthcare reform package since the 1960s on track. The US has come closer to a climate change cap and binding international trade agreements than ever before. Huge stimulus packages aimed at boosting the economy have also been passed. Despite all this, the Republicans seem more interested in blocking the president and his policies than in finding someone to lead them and form a front against him in the next election.

Sure enough, Obama's presidency has seen many controversial decisions. He has been attacked for deliberating too long over Afghanistan. He has been accused of dithering over Guantanamo Bay ... and his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize was greeted with scepticism in many quarters. Meanwhile, a soaring unemployment rate and what is generally considered failure to achieve anything in Copenhagen last year have also dinted his credibility.

But arguably it is too early to judge the Obama presidency. After one full year, the effects of his decisions are being felt worldwide - in some instances painfully. But, looking back at that moment a year ago, when, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he was sworn in on Lincoln's Bible, one thing we can all agree on is he has certainly delivered on his promise of change.

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