When Vanity Fair magazine featured then presidential candidate Barack Obama in a March 2008 article titled “Raising Obama,” the question was raised, “Is he tough enough?” The author verbalized a sentiment felt by Americans facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and overwhelmed by the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, ongoing threats posed by al-Qaida, as well as a never-ending health care debate.
Fast-forward to January 2010, the first African American president of the United States is celebrating his first year in the Oval Office. The honeymoon ends, withering criticism and persecution ensue.
During his first days in office, President Obama illustrated an unyielding dedication to revamping the health care system and overhauling the regulation of the financial services industry. He’s been thoughtful in his call to action on agenda items including financial reform, climate change, terrorism and health care reform.
In February 2009, the president signed his $787 billion economic stimulus package into law. In an upbeat speech, he highlighted that America was on the road to recovery. This measure was an example of swift action to enact legislation, because it had been less than a month since he’d been sworn into office. In emphasizing the president’s efforts to be transparent, the White House created a Web site, www.recovery.gov, letting Americans track where the money is spent.
In December 2009, he made progress at the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark during what he called a “meaningful and unprecedented” climate change deal with India, China, Brazil and South Africa, agreeing to “set a mitigation target to limit [global] warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.”
America’s War on Terror
During a recent intelligence review speech, President Obama declared, “the buck stops here with me.” This confirmation was in response to Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. At press time, Abdulmutallab pled not guilty in a Detroit court to six federal charges, including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill nearly 300 people on Northwest flight 253.
This prompted President Obama to ensure that the American government focuses on improving the flow of information among intelligence agencies and beefing up the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, or TDSB, the central terrorist watch list. Here are excerpts:
“… I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer, for ultimately the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility.”
“We are at war. We are at war against al-Qaida, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on Sept. 11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.”
In the midst of a plethora of security breeches, like the trespassing of Tareq and Michaele Salahi, labeled the White House Party Crashers; and terrorist attempts by Abdulmutullab and Michael C. Finton*, President Obama’s ability to lead and protect this nation have been called into question. His popularity, according to uncertified polls, is dwindling and his character is under attack.
Health Care Reform
On the first Christmas Eve since 1895, the Senate gathered for a vote. The result was a 60-to-39 party-line vote to reinvent the nation’s health care system, passing a bill to guarantee access to health insurance for tens of millions of Americans and to rein in health costs.
President Obama comments on the plan, “It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will lower the cost of health care for our families, our businesses, and our government.”
The New York Times reported that “The bill would require most Americans to have health insurance, would add 15 million people to the Medicaid rolls and would subsidize private coverage for low- and middle-income people, at a cost to the government of $871 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”
Change Has Come
Amongst the criticism and vilification, there are intimations that a higher power is at work. Abdulmutallab’s attempt was almost a success and would have been disastrous had he not been stopped by vigilant passengers. Finton’s efforts were thwarted because an undercover agent interceded. Under President Obama’s watch, commercial airline travelers have the security of knowing terrorists are not excluded from these screenings, and without our knowing they are arrested and detained. Health care reform is within arm’s reach; it was a lifelong goal of Obama’s mentor, the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Another political imperative for the Obama administration, a sweeping overhaul of our financial system and the re-regulation of Wall Street, resulted in a partisan win. Additionally, a new consumer financial watchdog agency has been created.
That said, in response to Vanity Fair’s lingering question, “Is he tough enough?”; the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
The gloves are off. Here’s a question for bankers, Wall Street titans, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, big business, terrorists, detractors and deniers — are you ready to rumble?
* Michael C. Finton, 29, who also went by the name Talib Islam, was arrested in Springfield, Ill., in September 2009, after federal officials said he attempted to set off explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse in the state capital.