By Marian Salzman, Tuesday, November 3, 2009, at 1:51 pm.
Today is the first Election Day since Obama’s tremendous victory last November. This time, his own office isn’t in question, but he’s still campaigning. He has been stumping and fundraising for candidates from Virginia to Connecticut, while burnishing his own brand.
His most important theme is hope (the term is a Clintonism, but Obama has more than made it his own). In these turbulent times, optimism is what keeps us going. Even as everything is changing, Obama encourages us to believe things will be better than before.
A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 26 percent of Americans are now satisfied with the country’s direction—a low number at first glance, but fully twice the dismal 13 percent who were satisfied a year ago. Six in 10 expect the country to be better off in three years. And Obama’s own approval rating remains near or above 50 percent—again, far higher than his predecessor’s.
So much has happened in [the past] year that it’s easy to forget just how improbable the election victory was…. We might no longer even get excited at the fact that our president’s speeches are often rhetorical treasures or that in most parts of the world our country’s leadership is once more admired rather than reviled.
[W]hat is the point of governing solely to remain popular? Far better to use some of that political capital to actually push for specific policy shifts. Roosevelt did so in the 1930s and today we remember not monthly dips in his approval ratings but rather his institutional legacy.
One year after Obama’s election, the initial excitement and euphoria might have faded, but the president and his team have kept us believing in positive change, in building on what works and fixing what needs to be improved. You hear it when he talks about health care, about diplomacy, about the financial system. Now a health-care bill is working its way through Congress, chilly international relations are thawing and the administration says its stimulus package has saved or created 650,000 jobs.
Obama’s story is itself the epitome of change—a mixed-race boy turned POTUS. It’s the American Dream writ large. But his real accomplishment, says Abramsky, was enlarging the idea of “free spaces,” a community organizing concept of creating places for political discussion and empowerment, to encompass the entire country:
[I]t was to open up possibilities for reimagining and reinventing America that had been left to gather dust for decades…. Over the past year, it has been the creation of [a] new political language, of [a] new set of expectations—for competency and openness in governance, for a political leadership that works to create new social safety net protections…for occupants of the White House who admit they aren’t infallible—that, to my mind, has been most impressive. If this project succeeds, the children of the Obama years might one day end up having as high expectations of their elected leaders as did the children of the New Deal era.
How’s that for a change?