Four years ago he was a blank slate. Millions projected their finest dreams on to Barack Obama. He was going to bring America together and put an end to racial strife. He’d make America respected again around the world. He’d do big things. His would be a transformational presidency.
Millions of other voters sketched their deepest fears on Obama’s blank slate. He was inexperienced and untested. He was different, unknown. He was a wild-eyed liberal, a communist, a Muslim. Maybe he wasn’t really an American.
The Kool-Aid has worn off for most of the lefties and newbies who swooned in 2008. But the far right has been more resistant to reality. He’s still the “other,” if not the antichrist, with a secret, second-term agenda to destroy America. An entire industry has grown up, devoted to spreading fear and lies about Obama.
But most Americans know him now, or at least we ought to. After four years in the White House, that slate should be pretty well filled in. What have we learned about the president?
- He’s still “No Drama Obama,” a cool head when things get hot. He doesn’t speak or act impulsively. He thinks things through. His gaffes are rare.
- He works well with others. He staffed his administration with strong personalities and sometime rivals like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Bob Gates, Leon Panetta and more. They don’t always agree behind closed doors – it’s no secret that Biden opposed the Afghan surge and the bin Laden raid – but there have been few signs of back-biting or the turf fights so common in Washington.
- He’s willing to compromise, sometimes too willing. Obama kept making concessions to Republicans in Congress, rarely getting their votes in return. But he’ll take a half-loaf any day – and come back looking for the other half later.
- Obama’s a basketball player – his high school team won a state championship. As president, he may dribble around a bit, but he’s willing to take the shot, even if it’s not a sure thing. Sometimes it clangs off the rim, like when he flew to Copenhagen in a last-ditch effort to bring the Olympics to Chicago. Sometimes it hits the target, like the Navy sniper who took out the Somali pirates to rescue an American captain early in Obama’s presidency, or like Seal Team 6 nailing Osama bin Laden.
- He’s a moderate who only looks like a leftist because Republicans have moved so far to the right. Obamacare is more conservative than Nixon’s health care reform proposal. Infrastructure investments were a top priority for Republicans like Lincoln and Eisenhower. Despite what you’ve heard, the numbers show that federal spending has grown at a lower pace under Obama than any president in 60 years.
- He’s not afraid to go big. Presidents since Harry Truman have tried to guarantee universal access to health care. Obama succeeded. The stimulus bill was the largest intervention in the economy in history, and it worked. Independent economists agree it added 2 percent to GDP, the difference between continuing recession and fragile recovery. It also included major long-term investments and significant reforms in education, energy and health care.
- He’s got a terrific family. Nothing the Obamas have done has embarrassed the nation.
- He’s on the side of those who need help. He went to the mat to extend benefits for the unemployed, to raise Pell grants and reduce interest rates for needy college students. In the wonky details of all the tax legislation he’s signed are provisions to shrink the income gap and boost opportunity for the middle class.
- Diversity is in his DNA and inclusion is one of his core values. He didn’t have to welcome gays and lesbians into the military or give the children of illegal immigrants a chance to be part of the only country they know – and Mitt Romney wouldn’t have done either one.
The week of the presidential inauguration, Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Obama to fail, and for four years, his allies in the Republican Party have done their best to make Rush’s dream come true. While the congressional wing tried to stall progress on the nation’s agenda at every turn, the media wing kept painting caricatures on Obama’s slate.
Those not blinded by partisanship have seen a different picture. After four years, they know President Obama to be level-headed, warm-hearted, open-minded and even-tempered. He has proven himself to be the leader America needs, now and for another four years.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newspaper.