Yearender: How far can Obama's "change agenda" go? (2)

13:40, December 09, 2009      

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In implementing his agenda, Obama has demonstrated firm determination and forcefulness. However, the results are not seen as tangible and effective.

"The central question that emerges after these months is can he make it all work?" said Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman who led commissions on the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war.

On economy, Obama has signed an unprecedented 787-billion-U.S.-dollar stimulus package to reinvigorate the economy, carrying out a financial stabilization plan and enacting three laws to enhance financial regulation and supervision.

He also designed a plan to restructure the country's ailing auto industry and encouraged the development of new energy and green economy.

The president worked out social plans to relieve the impact of the financial crisis, such as creating jobs, providing food and housing for the poor and improving schools.

Renowned columnist Eugene Robinson argued that Obama's biggest achievement so far has been "keeping the worst financial and economic crisis in decades from turning into another Great Depression."

Even conservative economist like Mark Zandi conceded that "the stimulus is doing what it was supposed to do -- it is contributingto ending the recession."

However, if Obama's "change agenda" has only produced a "stop-bleeding" effect for the economy, that is not going to meet the expectations of the Americans.

On the domestic front, the president has chosen health care reform as the top priority on his agenda since June and hopes the legislation can pass the Congress before year-end.

However, the multi-layer conflicts of interests associated with the reform stirred up a heated debate among the public and the politicians, and the House waited till November to pass the law by a slim margin.

With a stiff opposition from the Republicans and a divided Democratic caucus, the fate of the health care legislation in the Senate is less certain.

Political analysts are questioning Obama's timing to push forward the reform, because it has consumed much of his political capital at a time when the country still has many other major challenges.

Externally, Obama adjusted national security policy, putting more emphasis on nontraditional threats such as climate change and nuclear proliferation while shifting the anti-terror war focus from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, he adopted a new tone in foreign policy that is multilateral, pragmatic and conciliatory, in contrast with the previous administration's unilateral inclination.

Obama also envisioned the construction of a "multi-partner world" by solidifying ties with allies, adjusting relations with emerging powers, improving relations with the Muslim world and reaching out to "enemy states" through dialogue.

The new attitude gained applause globally but has yet not made a concrete difference in a number of critical issues.

Critics say the U.S. foreign policy is still largely self-centered and it is hard to break away with the traditional "empire mindset."

Domestically, Obama is confronting doubts and mistrust about his recent decision on Afghanistan.


Analysts said three tests emerging in the final month of the year, namely job, health care reform and the issue of Afghanistan, could be decisive for Obama and his agenda.

Political consultant Robert Shrum pointed out that to press forward with major initiatives on Obama's agenda, including healthcare, green economy and financial regulation, the president "needs a gathering sense of confidence among Americans that the economy is on track."

Right now, job is the key.

The December 2009 unemployment numbers to be released in January will be a signal of impending job creation or of persistent job losses in the coming months.

If the prospect is bleak, Democrats could desert Obama and his agenda, and Republicans will dominate the midterm election next year and go on to block his agenda at every turn in the following two years.

Secondly, as most Americans want an overhaul of the health care system, Obama and his fellow Democrats are likely to pay a high political price if they fail to pass a health care bill in the Congress in the short run.

However, before the Democrats get what they want, they must overcome controversies and divisions on many tough issues such as abortion, the public option, taxing the wealthy and offending the interests of insurance companies.

Here at the stake are not only Obama's political capability and credibility, but also the unity of his party.

On Afghanistan, the strategy will be tested in the battlefield and politics will be played in Washington.

Obama announced on Dec. 1 his plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and to start pulling out U.S. forces from that country in July 2011.

But the military conceded it is not a guarantee to turn the tides in the war. Obama is challenged from both sides of the political spectrum.

Democrats are worrying about an endless war and doubting the wisdom to send so many additional troops while Republicans argue that announcing a withdrawal date will only play into the hands of the enemy.

Opinions polls show that although Americans are not blaming Obama for the current situation in Afghanistan, they will hold him responsible if things do not improve in 2011.

Recently, the president has sharpened the focus of his agenda and laid great emphasis on the above three issues.

Analysts said if the health care bill passes the Congress soon, Obama will probably get a popularity boost. It is achievable if he makes an all-out effort.

However, on jobs, economy and Afghanistan, there are too many factors beyond his control, and the prospects of those issues are not clear.

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