“We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said. “We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”
Only 11 months later, a term that began with heady pledges and apparent momentum is in wreckage. Confidence in Obama has sunk like a cinder block hurled into the East River.
The embarrassing showing centers on his bungled implementation of Obamacare, raising doubts about its very viability, and extends to disastrous international zigs and zags that have sapped U.S. credibility among allies and foes. Call it the very worst year of this presidency.
Over and again in 2009, Obama promised: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”
Meaning: Efforts to extend coverage to the 40 million or 50 million Americans without plans would not disrupt life for the vast majority one bit.
They are 11 words that will go down in history most charitably as reckless spin, far more likely as a brazen lie, because this year, 4 million Americans got cancellation notices out of the blue.
Example: Deborah Persico, a 58-year-old, self-employed lawyer and two-time Obama voter who supported the health-care law, then found her policy cancelled, and only far more expensive policies available on new exchanges.
She told PBS’s “Newshour” that a new plan would cost her $5,000 more a year.
Why? Persico’s explanation: “The representative told me to look in the booklet that they had sent me, and I looked in the booklet. And in that booklet is a list of services that the ACA covers. Well, I have every one of those services, except maternity coverage and pediatric care.
“Now, I am 58 years old. The chance of me having a child at this age is zero. So, you know, I ask the President, why do I have to pay an additional $5,000 a year for maternity coverage that I will never, ever need?”
And that was just one piece of a nightmare rollout. HealthCare.gov, the engine that makes the new law work by letting the uninsured shop for plans, had just about the most screwed-up debut of any website in the history of the Internet. State exchanges were little better.
The Obama administration projected a half-million signups in the month of October alone. The President is now likely to celebrate jumping over that bar by year’s end, with fears that no matter how well the website eventually works, the broad public may not buy what Obama is selling.
Little wonder popular support for Obamacare ended the year at just 35%. Sixty-two percent of the American people now oppose a law that, especially in the early years, was supposed to deliver great benefits at low costs.
Adding salt to the wound: Obama has little to offer for the slow-motion crisis of joblessness that continues to squander human potential.
A 7% unemployment rate and monthly job creation now in excess of 200,000 conceals a labor participation rate — meaning, the percentage of working-age Americans who are an active part of the workforce — of just 63%. That’s near a generational low.
Obama can explain the problem. He can excoriate Republicans. But he cannot actually do anything to change the reality on the ground, and that is the ultimate measure of a President.
There are times when a President’s global stature buoys his standing at home. Not now.
As a civil war raged in Syria, fueled by the blistering brutality of Bashar Assad’s regime, Obama has looked worse than disinterested. He has seemed indecisive, if not bamboozled.
In 2012, the President had laid down a famous “red line” on chemical weapons. If they were used, there would be serious consequences. Read: American military consequences.
They were used. Women and children were killed as if they were insects. The commander-in-chief hemmed. He hawed. He punted to Congress, which balked. The Russians rushed in with a plan to dismantle the chemical weapons program; it may or may not work.
To this day, the Syrian murderer keeps killing his people.
On Iran, we’ve seen a similarly deflating pattern. The President has repeatedly promised that a nuclear-armed Tehran regime, which would fund terrorism with impunity and threaten Israel profoundly, is unthinkable.
Yet after punishing sanctions were at last bringing the regime to heel, Obama blinked and buckled — lifting some of them in exchange for the hollow promise of a six-month enrichment freeze.
Not least, but last, the administration failed a test with implications both at home and abroad:
After a thief of American secrets made off with thousands upon thousands of classified documents, Obama could not seem to credibly explain the surveillance powers the U.S. has wielded for years.
In a technologically complex landscape in which Islamist terrorists are plotting to kill, it is necessary for the nation to maintain an elaborate and sophisticated foreign intelligence apparatus.
But the President has acted haltingly as, month after month, the leaks have revealed the unimagined powers and practices of the National Security Agency. His potent powers of persuasion failed him, and us.
May the President find his way to effective leadership in the year ahead. May he cut his losses, and ours, with newfound humility.
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This article was written by the New York Daily News.