Release: At One Year, Obama Administration Falls Short

Washington, D.C. — One year after President Obama took office on a crest of hope from progressive Americans, he has emerged as the “Have it Both Ways” President: hawk and dove, populist and pragmatist, principled and political. A report — Barely Making the Grade: Obama’s First Year — released on January 14 by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) assesses the Obama administration’s ability to deliver promised change in the past year. It examines both foreign and domestic policies instituted by the administration on such issues as the Guantánamo Bay prison, the global economy, climate change, domestic health care, the war in Afghanistan, and the financial transactions tax. This report follows up on “Thirsting for Change,” a similar assessment written by the Institute three months after Obama took office.

“In April 2009, we gave the administration a score of seven out of 10,” explained John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at IPS. “We’ve lowered that mark to 6.5 – a C-minus — because President Obama has clearly fallen short of what he outlined as a candidate and what we had hoped for during the campaign.” The report’s Change Index uses the middle figure of five to represent no change from the Bush administration.

Among the areas in which Obama is found wanting:

  • Obama failed to lead in the health care debate by insisting on the privileged inclusion of industry. His provided lackluster support for a public option and importation of lower-cost pharmaceutical drugs; his opposition was weak to compulsory private policies and the diminution of women’s reproductive rights.
  • The Obama administration, despite its need to find money for domestic priorities, increased military spending.
  • When the global economic crisis hit, Obama used it as a reason for postponing promised reforms such as renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
  • Obama’s promise to close Guantánamo prison has yet to be kept.
  • In Yemen, as in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other fronts in the continuing war on terror, the Obama administration has remained locked in the militarism mindset.

The Institute gives the president praise for:

  • Making health reform his top priority and for likely presiding over historic legislation that may result in coverage for many of the 46 million Americans currently uninsured;
  • Expanding health insurance coverage for children through SCHIP and allocating $140 billion of the economic stimulus package to cover health care;
  • Strengthening the ability of Americans to challenge discriminatory pay, investing more money in the social safety net, cutting taxes for middle-class Americans, and extending unemployment insurance.
  • Taking aim at Cold War weapons systems like the F-22 fighter aircraft, and canceling the missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic;
  • Including development as a consideration in the human rights realm and lifting the Global Gag Rule that restricted U.S. funding for family planning;
  • Committing to reforming rules in trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties and establishing an investment advisory committee that included a number of progressive experts; and
  • Transforming foreign policy language and ideology away from George W. Bush’s unilateralist militarism by re-engaging with the Muslim world, respecting the United Nations and international law, and speaking about the importance of diplomacy over military action.

According to the report, Obama has had the most successful first year of a presidency since Jimmy Carter, and his accomplishments are even more impressive when compared to the first years of conservative presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. However, when assessed against the promises of his campaign and the hopes of achieving greater progress in the areas examined in the report, the authors find Obama “barely making the grade…”

Authors of the report include Feffer; Sarah Anderson, IPS Fellow, Global Economy; Phyllis Bennis, Director, IPS project on New Internationalism; Karen Dolan, IPS Fellow, Cities for Peace; Dedrick Muhammad, Research Associate, IPS project on Inequality and the Common Good; and Daphne Wysham, IPS Fellow, Sustainable Energy and Economy Network.

The Institute for Policy Studies strengthens social movements with independent research, visionary thinking, and links to the grassroots, scholars and elected officials. Since 1963 it has empowered people to build health and democratic societies in communities, the United States, and the world.