Each president takes office with an ambitious agenda on both the domestic and international fronts. Yet, very few presidents have been confronted with the stunning collection of challenges that Barack Obama inherited on his first day in the Oval Office.
Our economy and that of the world were on the brink of a systemic and cataclysmic collapse not seen in nearly 80 years. Our capital markets were no longer functioning and our patchwork regulatory apparatus rendered a relic. Millions of Americans were losing their homes, their jobs, their health care and their sense of security. Our economy was in a free-fall.
Beyond our borders, familiar foes, new flash-points and persistent conflicts combined to make our world a very uncertain and dangerous place. Political and military conflict within Iraq persisted with brave Americans making sacrifices daily. A rogue regime in North Korea continued its periodic escalations threatening to further destabilize a fragile detente holding for half a century. A fraudulent election stoked a movement for freedom against an oppressive regime in Iran. A fledgling democracy hung by a thread due to an under-resourced military campaign in Afghanistan. Our allies were demoralized and resistant to American leadership.
What a difference a year makes! While there is certainly much to be done, this president has made historic strides in not only grappling with the challenges he inherited, but also in pushing aggressive policy initiatives at home and abroad.
Even the most pessimistic of economists acknowledge that the unprecedented government interventions undertaken by this administration stabilized the economy and stemmed our losses in GDP and employment. The results of the investments through the stimulus package will pay dividends for communities around this country for generations. Moving forward, President Obama has pushed for dramatic changes to the financial regulatory framework, to ensure that this type of systemic failure is never allowed to occur again.
As the triage of our domestic challenges continued, this president has also tackled the largest threat to our future economic prosperity a health care system that costs too much, serves too few and threatens employment at every income level. This challenge has bedeviled our national leaders for much of the past century, and while success is far from ensured, this president has gotten us closer to reform than we have ever been. Reasonable people can disagree on tactics. Still, unlike domestic initiatives proposed and adopted during the past administration, this president has pushed Congress to adopt legislation that advances reform without adding to our already staggering budget deficit.
Lost within the debate over comprehensive reform is that this administration extended health care for 4.1 million low-income children by expanding SCHIP again while preventing growth in the budget deficit.
Challenging entrenched interests, the president has made Washington a force for transformational education reform with his Race to the Top Fund.
Around the world, President Obama has undertaken an aggressive foreign policy reflective of American values. He has united our friends and foes alike in dealing with intractable issues in both North Korea and Iran leaving both of those dangerous regimes politically and economically isolated.
A situation in Iraq that had become an embarrassing quagmire is now much more stable, with no U.S. combat deaths in the past month for the first time since the invasion.
The president has led an international coalition in renewing our commitment to an Afghanistan that is no longer a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and the narcotics trade.
With our allies, this administration has expanded the war on Al-Qaeda to Yemen and other fronts ensuring that those behind attacks on the U.S. have nowhere to hide.
With unusual focus, President Obama has tackled a variety of vexing issues in ways that are bound to frustrate some in the diverse marketplace of American ideas. Nevertheless, he has acted boldly and decisively at a time when America could afford nothing less. It is clear that this president has steered our nation back toward security and prosperity.
Surely, that’s a direction that everyone can support.
Justin Wilson is a former Alexandria city council member.