One year after the exuberant optimism that accompanied Barack Obama's historic election, little has changed except the nation's mood.
The man who was supposed to usher in a new tone has drawn fire from conservatives, who say his talk of finding common ground has proven to be mere lip service. No real surprise that the opposition should dismiss the efforts of the party in power. But the broad middle of the spectrum may have the greatest reason to be disappointed in Obama's first year. These folks have been patient on the big issues -- the economy, war, Guantanamo, terrorism, etc. Those issues can't be solved overnight. However, it is in Obama's biggest promise that he has failed -- that of bringing a change of tone to Washington.
Sure, bipartisanship is a two-way street. The White House can claim that congressional Republicans haven't been eager to work with Obama on big issues. Only three GOP senators signed onto the economic stimulus package earlier this year. One, Arlen Specter, has since become a Democrat. Health care legislation -- if it ever gets out of the Senate -- may not garner a single Republican on board. Obama can say he extended a hand and was rebuffed.
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Still, a lot of the blame for increased Washington rancor belongs at the feet of the administration. Some of the tension was created by accident: Obama's calling Henry Louis Gates' arrest by Cambridge Police Officer James Crowley "stupid" did short-term damage to Obama's "post-racial" brand. That was a slip of the tongue at the end of a long press conference.
Obama's overt partisanship has been no accident. The White House early on decided to start picking fights with those opposing its plans. Rush Limbaugh was an easy target, although declaring him the Republican Party's "leader" might have been laying it on thick. But Fox News? The Chamber of Commerce? The insurance industry? And with all the big issues on its plate, how is it that the White House still manages to plunge itself into obscure congressional special elections in upstate New York? Or pulls out all the stops to get one governor re-elected?
In a city where one doesn't have to work too hard to produce enemies, Obama and Co. seem almost eager to find more. One year ago, the nation elected a seeming agent of reconciliation -- not just across racial lines, but ideological and political ones, as well Perhaps the nation was a bit naive to believe that all partisanship would suddenly come to an end.
But the president could have done more to work to that goal and help fulfill the public's belief in him. With three years to go before his re-election, Obama still has time to bring about the policy changes that he promised. But it's already too late to fulfill the change in atmosphere.